Lost and Found

Lost and Found

Postby Arbarano » August 14th, 2010, 4:54 pm

Better start with the obvious: I'm a fairly new author, so if you do have any corrections to make then don't hessitate to point them out. Now, for the moment, I'm not going to include a synopsis, because...I'm not good at writing them without spoiling vast amounts of the story. But I will say this:

"Mufasa's death...was a terrible tragedy," but it was not the only one to occur that night.

Also, massive thanks to my betareader, Aquaman52 off of Fanfic . net.

Now, as I think this story will end up being quite long, it may end up being split between posts, but other than that, I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I did writing it. :)


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Chapter One

Spoiler: show
Silence. The lack of sound around the normally vibrant kingdom hub was both chilling and foreboding. The lionesses and cubs of the Pridelands congregated closely beside the promontory of Pride Rock, illuminated by a sliver of moonlight that crept around the majestic formation. In the low light, pained, mournful expressions could be seen on every face in the huddle. Some were odd, screwed grimaces; others wore a look of complete disbelief and shock; while a few, mostly the young ones, had tears budding at the corners of their eyes, and bent the heads to the ground in grief. The silence was not complete, though it would almost be better if it were, for the only sounds were brief and muffled sobs, echoing against the wind-lathed stone nearby.

Something truly terrible had happened that day.

On a slightly raised platform which lead into the caves on Pride Rock, a brown-furred lion sat on his haunches, his straggly, obsidian mane hanging limp beneath his jaw. His black, pointed nose was craned skywards, as if full of pride, yet his face adopted the same dampened look as those a little way below. His piercing, green eyes were hidden for the moment in reflection, allowing the celestial beams to highlight the jagged old wound splayed across his left eye that had become his namesake.

“Mufasa’s death…was a terrible tragedy,” Scar said with a hushed, reverential tone, “but to lose Simba, who had barely begun to live…”

The sentence was left hanging as the brown lion sniffled and buried his muzzle in his forepaw. A powerfully-built, dark tan lioness, who up until now had been looking stoically ahead in evident but dignified heartache, now dipped her head to the ground in despair, as a blue hornbill comfortingly placed his wing on her paw. Though Sarabi already knew that her beloved husband and son were gone, Scar’s words had re-opened the deep, excruciating wounds in her soul; they confirmed that her worst nightmares had come true.

The same had happened to a tan cub a short distance from her, as she was reminded that her best friend was never coming back from that gorge. With a gasping cry, Nala huddled closer to her mother’s forelegs, twin tears slithering down her face. One the rock, Scar had recovered from his momentary lapse and pressed on as the confirmation had sunk into the minds of the pride.

“For me, it is a deep personal loss. So it is with a heavy heart that I assume the throne. Yet out of the ashes of the tragedy, we shall rise!” His voice had lost its air of sympathy by this point, reverting to a forceful and commanding tone that grew steadily in volume. This caught the pride’s attention, but after a moment they were instead focused on the shadows behind Scar.

In the ethereal green light, the shapes of hyenas pressed forth from the dark recesses of Pride Rock, a similar colour emanating from the scavengers’ eyes.

“To greet…the dawning of a new era!” The pride let out a collective gasp, shaken out of their mournful stupor. Several looked around, and saw more of their enemy closing in.

“In which lion and hyena come together, in a great and glorious future!” Their new King’s voice had dropped sinisterly and almost to a whisper, magnified by the smooth surroundings of their home. As the gleeful yips of the incoming hyenas grew ever louder, the lionesses realised for the first time just how much faith they placed on the whims of their king.

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Yet the Pridelands were not the only kingdom to be in upheaval that night. A little beyond the horizon atop Pride Rock, lay the kingdom of the Upper Eastlands, a lush and bountiful realm of soft, rolling hills and verdant, rich grasslands. That day, however, the serenity and peace of this kingdom had been shattered.

The pride that called the lands home was congregated in a spacious cave on a large hill near the centre of the kingdom. Many were tending to deep, bloody scratches and savage bites, aided by a rather terse cheetah who dispensed healing herbs to the injured. Mothers were shielding their cubs and trying to calm them after the events of that day, while their mates attempted to put on brave faces for the sake of their families. One was unable to do any of this; she lay broken, and unmoving, in one of the other smaller caves that permeated the hillside they called Haven. Inside yet another rather private shelter, another of their number was fated to join the prone lioness, though not for a little while yet.

A large, robustly-built lion lay on his side in this cave, his ragged breathing echoing in the confined space. Large chunks of his pelt had been brutally ripped away, exposing sickening, pink innards and smearing his normally brown coat with liberal amounts of viscous blood, which continued to seep through the multitude of injuries. One of his hind legs stuck out at an odd angle after a particularly heavy landing during that day’s exertions and several of his ribs were snapped, poking inwards and spearing his organs with every rise of his chest.

The almost unbearable pain was clear to see on Umeme’s face, its normally regal features stretched and contorted with each breath. A yellowish lioness, his treasured wife Masaada, sat by his middle, determinedly trying to clean his many wounds with her gentle tongue. But this battle was steadily, and surely, being lost. And Umeme knew it.

“Dear…” he croaked, just managing to suppress the loud roar that he was begging to let out, craning his neck to look at her for what could be the last time. The deft, comforting swabs at his inner layers of skin stopped as she did the same. Through the gloom of the moonlit cave, and a rather think layer of moisture, his piercing amber eyes met her warm, cerulean gaze, and she realised the inevitable.

Her visage too stretched into a grimace to rival his own, and she buried it in the expanse of his greying dark brown mane, though softly to avoid causing him even more pain. Both of them were well into their dotage, with Umeme recently celebrating twelve years of life, so Masaada was aware that this day would eventually come. But that didn’t mean that she expected it to be now, in this horrendously painful manner, or that she wanted it to happen.

Tears leaked from her eyes with great, shuddering sobs at what they both knew was going to happen, while he raised his least injured forepaw, and rubbed it tentatively along the nodules of her spine, trying to calm her while the building moisture in his own eyes finally ran its course silently down the sides of his own muzzle.

“Come on, honey,” he implored, attempting to keep his voice as strong as possible. “We both knew this was coming.”

There was a great, wet sniff as Masaada tried to gather herself before responding, “Yes, but does it have to be now?” she asked, desperation flooding her voice. “Surely Amana could do something?”

Her voice had cracked by the end of her query, and Umeme could feel his heart do the same at the sound of her anguish. He didn’t want to leave her, but he had to. With a sharp intake of breath as a bone fragment struck something it shouldn’t, he carried on.

“Maybe she could, but even if she did it would be a long and arduous recovery,” he stated, wavering. “There wouldn’t be much of a life left for me at the end of it.”

At this, Masaada picked herself up, and he felt a great deal of warmth leave his body. He really did not have much time left. She stared deeply into those amber orbs once again, trying to miss the innumerable scratches that also adorned the face she so adored.

“But at least it would be a life,” she mumbled, unable to raise her voice. “At least we would still be together.”

Umeme had to steady himself before his reply. He was almost ready for death: it would be a welcome and deserved respite from the immense pain wreaking havoc through his body. But he was not ready to leave his mate behind, or to watch her suffering from his place in the heavens with no way to help; those were the only two things keeping him there.

“Honey…don’t you remember the story of what happens to those who pass on?” he asked, a small, reassuring smile stretching his lips despite his own personal agony. “I’ll never be truly gone. We’ll always be together, even if we can’t feel each other.”

His words had a small but definite effect, and her expression softened. She was still burdened by enormous sorrow, but at least she was somewhat ready for his passing. She gave a slight nod, and bent down to lick the end of his nose, careful to avoid inflaming the cuts there.

“Do you want me to go get Amana? She might have something to stop the pain.” She wanted him to suffer as little as possible before the inescapable happened, but his great head shook.

“I think I can manage,” he breathed out, before a hacking cough interrupted his reverie. “Could you fetch Khalfani though? I need to speak to him before…”

“’Course,” she said, tears welling up as he delicately left the sentence hanging. The lioness began to turn away and leave, but at the last second she faltered, and once again gently rested her head on his side, nuzzling him tenderly.

“I love you, Umeme,” she gasped, slowing her rubs a tiny amount. “From the first time we met, and you pulled that stupid jump off Haven, I knew I loved you… and I always will…even if we can’t truly be with each other…” Her sentence trailed off as her tears grew more copious, soaking further into his mane with each pained rub.

Once again, Umeme had to fight to stop himself from breaking, as the treasured memories played in his mind’s eye. Where did all that time go? he thought mournfully, tears running freely down his muzzle to cling resolutely onto the age-lengthened fuzz on his chin.

“And I you, Massie,” he wheezed. Time was growing short, and he could feel the end approaching, but he found the strength to wrap his forelegs around her and pull her close, despite the horrendous pain. “And I you…”

He relented, and felt her comforting weight slowly rise off his neck, and breathing became easier again, though only slightly; the inevitable was still on the horizon. However, he had to speak to his son before he departed, and Umeme watched through half-lidded eyes as the love of his life gave his muzzle a heartfelt lick, before leaving to find their son. In the empty silence, his mind rested on those he would be with again. Dad…Mum…Ahadi…Afla…it won’t be long now.

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In the entrance to the Sleeping Cave, a well-built but rather young lion sat on his haunches. His head hung limply, as he stared intently at the ground as though trying to bore into it; trying to find a way to escape the heartache he felt as his father lay struggling for breath in one of the other caves. Tears fell silently from the end of his muzzle as the terrible thoughts crossed his mind. He had already lost his sister recently; surely the Great Kings would not allow their number to be increased tonight.

He picked his head up momentarily, looking down the hillside for the opening to the cave where her cold, lifeless form lay in peace. She had barely left cub hood, he thought, face unconsciously contracting in grief. She didn’t deserve this.

His thoughts returned to his father; surely he would get better. He was not going to die. Not now. Not when he needed him the most. Not when he was too young to take the responsibilities the king’s death would entail.

The young lion sighed. Now more than ever before, he wanted his love by his side, but she wasn’t. An earlier sweep of the cave had told him that Sabra was trying to calm her younger brother down. He didn’t feel angry with her for that, but still, he couldn’t help but desire her to be with him. So that he could feel her kind, reassuring affections; so that he could be immersed in her earthy scent again; so that he didn’t feel so crushingly alone.

As if on cue, he heard a soft padding from behind, getting steadily louder as someone approached, and he flicked his head around to face them. As soon as his eyes landed on the familiar, brown-furred lioness he couldn’t help but feel uplifted. But then the thick, suffocating cloud surrounding his heart reasserted its presence, and he turned away to face the landscape, fresh tears blazing their path down his face.

Silently, Sabra sidled up to him, nuzzling his side kindly as she joined him in sitting. At her affections, Khalfani’s neck went limp, as something inside him crumbled, and he felt himself rest against her for support, in every sense of the word.

“Don’t worry, darling,” Sabra murmured, bending down to try and peer into his eyes. Her search was brief, as Khalfani had picked himself up again at her concerned tone. “I’m sure he’ll be fine,” she finished with a reassuring but respectfully small smile.

“Khalfani…”

Both of them looked up at the hushed whisper, and saw their queen standing before them. Aside from his burgundy mane, Khalfani was an almost perfect doppelganger of his mother, despite inheriting his father’s oversized frame. The lion felt boosted, thinking that her appearance might bring news of his father’s recovery. However, when the pairs of identical eyes met, he felt his heart plummet again and the suffocating fog thicken. The dark lines indicating copious tears; the barely-contained trembling of her jaw; the unmistakable look of despair in those normally warm blue orbs. This couldn’t be good news.

His mother inhaled with an oddly wet sound. “Your dad wants to have a word with you,” she said, in a cracked, quiet voice; she was clearly close to breaking. Unable to do anything else but dreading what lay ahead, he obeyed and slowly ambled off to join his mother. Sabra stayed behind: she wanted to be there for him, but knew that it was not her place to interrupt the king’s final moments with his family.

Though the cave was not far from the one they slept in, the walk there seemed to be the longest of Khalfani’s life. He could feel every muscle in his body tremble as he padded toward the cave, engrossed in thought, searching desperately for something that would make this not be reality, sinking slowly into despair as the sorrow began to consume him.

“I’m so sorry, Khalfani,” his mother whispered, “I should have got him back quicker.”

The young lion was jerked back to earth by this, and by the vision in his mind of the aged lioness carrying her battered husband to the cave where he now lay, his broken leg jarring horribly against her flank. Fluids streamed down her face, as she strove determinedly, but gently given his condition, back to Haven; back to where Amana could hopefully treat him. Khalfani had to fight back a shudder at the sight of his father’s blood dripping out of the many slashes in his countenance.

“Don’t be, Mum,” he replied. He did his best to replicate Sabra’s smile from earlier, but with the pain in his chest and shuddering jaw he was unsuccessful. He settled instead with giving her a comforting nuzzle. It was a slightly odd feeling; usually, she was the one trying to cheer him up when he was down. “You did everything you could.”

Presently, they had reached the cave, and Khalfani could hear his father’s strained breathing reverberate from deep within. Panicking, he ran almost blindly into the cave, desperate to see his father, desperate for some hope. Maybe he was going to make it, but it would be a long time before he could walk again? That had to be it. His father couldn’t be dying.

But when his eyes adjusted, his father was still in the same bad way as Khalfani last saw him. Their shaman’s herbs and assistance had stemmed the flow from the smaller cuts and nips, but the more gaping holes were still sickeningly damp, and the fur around them was still stained scarlet. There was still life in Umeme, but it was dwindling rapidly; his chest was rising very slowly and weakly, and his eyes were almost fully closed.

Resisting the overbearing urge to simultaneously vomit and break down in sobs, he bounded over to his father, hoping that the noise might rouse him; it didn’t. Those familiar amber eyes remained almost hidden, though he did hear his father make an odd noise, almost as if he was talking in his sleep.

“Dad!” Khalfani exclaimed, the terror he felt reaching breaking point, but it quelled slightly when his father’s eyelids retreated. But only slightly.

“Son…” he replied weakly, barely more than a whisper, the corners of his mouth receding to his neck at the sight of his child. Khalfani felt his eyes overflow once again, as he now realised the extent of his father’s injuries, though he couldn’t bear to look at them.

“Dad, please!” he begged, “tell me you’re gonna make it!” His eyes could see the tremendous pain that each breath caused, all the innards shifting beneath the shattered ribcage, but he refused to believe that his father…would not be there any more. He couldn’t even complete the thought now that he knew.

“Shh…calm down, Khalfani,” Umeme wheezed. With great difficulty, the king raised his left forepaw, and the yellow lion lowered himself to fit under it and collapsed softly into Umeme’s ever-reassuring embrace, quickly creating a damp patch around his grief-etched face. “I know it will be hard…but I’m afraid it is my time.”

Umeme was trying to keep his voice stable and strong for his son, if only to make the blow less catastrophic, but it was a futility by now.

“But I’m not ready to lose you, Dad. I’m not ready to be King.” Khalfani heard his father sharply gasp at the last part; he knew it was just as difficult and traumatic for his father to say goodbye as it was for him. However, he was comforted when the older lion’s paw stroked gently at his back.

“I know you are, my son. I-” But he was stopped with his face contorted horribly, as another bone fragment poked into something tender within his chest. The pain was immense, and Umeme had to forcibly stop his claws from unsheathing instinctively, but he managed to gather himself. “I’m sorry that you must carry this burden at such a young age…but I have full confidence in you, Khalfani. You are the greatest achievement of my life, and you will become an equally great King…I only wish that I could be with you as you do.” His face twisted again as he said this, but this time in overwhelming heartache than physical pain, though it was still agonising.

Though this speech had calmed Khalfani and was starting to give him a shred of his usual confidence back, it was almost completely mitigated by his father’s voice growing fainter and fainter throughout. The fear was starting to take over by now.

“You were always there for me, Dad. I couldn’t have wished for anyone better as a father.” He had to tell him just how much he meant to him, before…

Unseen by Khalfani but noticed by Masaada, who was watching the tender, but heartbreaking moment from a little way behind her son, one last wide smile sprouted across Umeme’s tattered face. He gave his wife a small, reassuring nod, and she tearfully returned it. She could barely resist the compulsion to run over and hold both of them close herself, but she knew that this moment was intended for their son. Umeme’s noble head returned to the ground with a soft thud.

“Thank you, son. Don’t worry…I’ll always be watching over you. I love you, my boy…”

And with that, everything went silent. Khalfani felt his father’s gentle embrace become nothing more than a weight around his neck, choking him like the darkness surrounding his heart. He felt his father’s chest cease its doomed heaving, and something intangible but agonisingly familiar leave the comforting body beneath him. He sank further into the still-warm pelt, tears flowing silently as his senses numbed, and finally collapsed in grief and shock.



Chapter Two

Spoiler: show
For Khalfani, it was as if time had stopped. He heard nothing. He felt nothing, besides the gaping void that occupied his chest and the steadily chilling fur beneath him. No thoughts crossed his mind. He just stared at the smoothed stone that enclosed their broken bodies, tears slowly trickling down his muzzle as he tried desperately not to catch sight of his father’s corpse. But he knew that he had to; he had to face the undeniable, horrible truth.

Slowly, with muscles aching as though he had been the one gasping for breath, he carefully manoeuvred his limbs around Umeme’s overlarge form, and pushed himself to his paws. For a few moments he closed his eyes, as he barely heard the formerly embracing forelimb limb meet the ground with a quiet thump, and took a deep, steadying breath; he could feel his entire face welling up at the prospect of what he was about to do. He cracked his eyes back open.

A painfully familiar sight greeted him. His father looked so serene, so untroubled, with his head gently lying against the floor, and a small smile stretching across his tired face. Due to his old age, Umeme had found himself spending an increasing amount of time resting, trying to conserve his strength for when his royal duties called. But now, Khalfani would never again be able to rouse him with a nudge or playful shout. As the memories once again flooded back, the young lion’s head bowed and he eyes screwed shut once again. I love you too, Dad.

So dulled had Khalfani’s senses become, though, that he hadn’t heard what was going on behind him. He hadn’t heard his mother, trembling with every step, slowly pad to the mouth of the small cave, and with a quick look behind her to try and placate her desire to run back into the cave and nuzzle her son in comfort, tilt her face to the heavens. He had not seen the two new stars twinkle at her from on high, and he had not expected the aging Queen to let out a loud yowl, which echoed around in the night and perked many of the nearby animals’ heads.

It was an appalling sound, not only because of how strained and laden with heartache it was, or how Masaada almost collapsed after her grief-weakened voice fell silent, but also because it had a particular meaning; it confirmed the King’s passage to join his ancestors. As its reverberations faded, the cool night air was disturbed by two sets of thundering paws, belonging to a cheetah and a brown lioness.

Sabra, the younger of the two, arrived first, and was met with the sight of the grieving Queen. Seeing Masaada’s eyes glossed over and staring resolutely at the ground, with her shoulders so limp that the aged lioness was swaying slightly, Sabra knew that there was little she could do to console her queen. A feeling of guilt bubbling up in her chest, she quietly padded into the cave. The cheetah though, remained outside. Despite it being her duty as Shaman to tend to the deceased, and not typically being a very sentimental soul, Amana couldn’t suppress a distinct pang of nausea as she watched Masaada’s lonely anguish. Silently, the cheetah trotted over to her old friend.

Through the low light, Sabra spotted Khalfani standing over his father at the cave’s end, and she deftly padded towards them. She sped up a little, as she saw her beloved cringe in heartache, and bow his head to the dead king, but remained quiet so as to not disturb him in his clearly pained thoughts.

Khalfani was sure that he heard pawsteps behind him, but dismissed the miniscule noises as the occasional tear parting company from the end of him muzzle. He was alone now, surely. With his father…gone, and his mother overwhelmed by her own grief, there was no one to comfort him. No one. Except for whoever was gently nuzzling his shoulder, or who was providing a strangely familiar, earthy scent, that his dulled sense of smell was having trouble pinning down.

Khalfani tilted his head to the left, and his eyes landed upon a soft grey pair that he knew so well. He felt an old warmth return to his dulled chest, fighting against the chilling clouds that had grown denser as he sank deeper into despair. Once again, Sabra’s mere presence was enough to give him a small shred of hope. It was not enough to overcome the crippling trauma he felt, but her comforting expression was something his mind could tether to; something to keep his mind from falling into the abyss.

But still he felt conflicted by these feelings, and he returned to staring sombrely at the deceased King, simply allowing the tears to fall again. He could not be calm and reassured in the presence of his father’s unmoving body. Surely it was right that he feel hopeless. Surely it was right that he go through this tremendous pain. Surely it was right that he be left to truly mourn…

“Honey…”

His gaze was wrestled away from his father at the gentle whisper, and instead fixed on Sabra’s almost imploring visage. In her grey eyes he could also see a certain unease, alongside the great waves of sympathy.

“I know how much this is hurting you, dear…” She paused, as if to steady herself; her voice was still a tentative mumble. “But…come with me.”

The words seemed to echo in Khalfani’s almost empty mind. Leave? The thought almost sickened him. Surely leaving his father would be a sign of contempt; as if Umeme’s death had meant absolutely nothing? No. It was only right for him to stay by his father’s side. It was what he would have wanted, wasn’t it? It’s what any loving son would do for their father.

And yet, the thought of staying also made him feel ill. He was growing less and less able to look upon the corpse; to look upon all those horrific, and now proven to be fatal, injuries; to have to smell his father’s previously heartening scent being swamped by the odour of congealed blood and the unmistakable musk of death. The maelstrom of emotions roiling inside his head would be pain enough for his father.

Swallowing back the bile rising in his throat, Khalfani gave her a short nod and turned to follow her out of the cave, but not before craning his head back one last time to look at the lion who had been the first thing he’d ever seen, who had taught him everything he had ever known, who had comforted him; played with him, loved and cared for him. He hadn’t lied: he couldn’t have ever wished for a better father.

Painfully, he tore his eyes away from the body, fearing that his body would simply collapse if he beheld the sight any more in his present, exhausted state. Every muscle trembled, and his breathing echoed the ragged sounds from earlier, as he crept beside the brown lioness, once again becoming lost in his own thoughts. Seeing his neck arch itself downwards, as he lost the will to look ahead, Sabra gently wrapped her tail around his.

It was not tight enough to express intimacy or desire, but it was still there. As Khalfani’s mind became enveloped in its own suffering, it was the one thing that prevented him from completely closing himself off from the world. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t need to, she just kept that constant reminder there: he was not alone. He couldn’t find the words to thank her, not with his thoughts lying almost dormant in his blank mind, but he couldn’t have been more grateful.

Soon enough, they came to the mouth of the hollow, and Khalfani could spot his mother and Amana just outside the opening. He wasn’t sure if it was his barely-functioning hearing, but he could hear a compassion in the cheetah’s voice that was never there before. And yet, it was having virtually no effect on the queen. Though she definitely appeared to have steadied, and brought her more explosive feelings under her normal, regal control, the look of vacant despair was still embedded into her eyes. Her shoulders were still hunched, her jaw never ceased its almost cubbish quivering, and tears still slipped unendingly from the corners of those weary, cerulean orbs.

Seeing the pair emerge from the gloom, Amana leant her spotted head in even closer to Masaada’s ear. After a brief, nearly inaudible whisper and a last attempt to comfort the queen with a reassuring smile, to which the lioness gave an odd twitch in answer, the shaman dutifully trotted off to take care of the king, silently acknowledging the couple with a nod as she passed. Sabra was almost about to lead Khalfani away, but saw Masaada slowly moving towards them, stumbling occasionally and jolting the still hanging droplets from her fur.

When they were almost touching noses, the queen stopped, and the pairs of identical eyes once again stared into each other in silence. Though the aged lioness opened her mouth with the intention of trying to console her son, no words passed her lips. Instead, she padded forwards again, and leant her neck against the lion’s in a leonine hug. Again, not a sound exuded from the pair, not that it was needed as the thoughts almost flowed between them, each providing immeasurable solace to the other.

Eventually, though neither of them wanted to let go, the embrace had to end. Though it seemed as if time had stopped during the fortifying affection, and indeed the only real movement had been the queen raising a paw to stroke her son’s pelt, the world around had kept relentlessly moving, and a few of the pride members were slowly making their way to the source of the yowl, which seemed to have happened eons ago.

Masaada softly pulled away from Khalfani, whose eyes reopened with a startled look, though not much of one due to the tightness that still gripped his face. He could see that there was definitely something different about her now. She was holding herself more upright, and as gave him something of a reassuring look, he could see that the heartache in her eyes was slightly diminished, even if it was still, painfully, the dominating feeling behind her more composed expression.

Sabra could see what the queen was hinting at, and brought her own head to Khalfani’s, giving him a brief nuzzle. When his face whipped around to meet hers, she gently beckoned him to keep following her, their tails still entwined. At the sight of her usual, comforting smile, the lion nodded, and the pair quietly walked away, though as they left Sabra could hear Masaada finally break her silence.

“Thank you, Sabra,” she croaked, her voice still weak. “Thank you for being strong when I could not.” As she finished, the old lioness once again dipped her head, but this time it was as though in shame.

Strong? Me? The lioness pondered as she lead Khalfani back to the Sleeping Cave, back to where he would be safe. It was true that Sabra was keeping remarkably calm seeing as she had still been fairly close to Umeme and had a great amount of fondness and respect for the paternal old lion, though obviously not as much as Khalfani. However, as much as she felt guilty for thinking it, the need to be there for the grieving son, in her mind, far outweighed the need to mourn the dead father. Not that she wasn’t greatly upset by the loss of her King, but every time she saw the look of hopelessness in Khalfani’s eyes, Sabra felt a stab of her own anguish shoot through her, which was why she was taking him somewhere familiar, and somewhere hopefully quiet, so that she could help him collect himself.

Eventually the pair made it back to the main cave on Haven, but Sabra’s idea of a secluded spot was actually at the rear of the hollow. At the very rear of the cave, it greatly narrowed and curved slightly to the left, creating a sheltered area that had been reserved for the royal family since before living memory. Unfortunately, its location meant that to reach the private area she had to lead Khalfani past most of the pride, who had either elected to remain behind, already knowing what the Queen’s howl had signified, or were still nursing their injuries.

Khalfani could almost feel the twenty or so pairs of eyes boring into him as he stiffly trotted past, still being lead by Sabra. Were it not for the gravity of the situation, the sight of their confident, occasionally cocky prince being directed by a lioness a fair bit smaller than himself would have elicited a chuckle from some of the other pride members. But instead, as they saw the almost arthritic gait and look of great misery, some turned their gaze to the ground and unconsciously adopted similar expressions. Others kept their eyes trained on the couple, the odd tear slipping from those of the more emotional in the pride, while yet more looked to their own loved ones for comfort.

“Mummy, what’s happening?” asked a high-pitched voice up ahead, which actually managed to break through Khalfani’s temporary deafness. Without thinking, the lion felt his eyes drift upwards to the question’s source, one of the young cubs.

“It’s all right, sweetie,” his mother…Sanaa, was it?…replied, reaching forward to pull her tiny son close. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

Oh really? How could anyone think that what’s going on right now is ”˜fine’?

Khalfani blinked as he quickly quashed the savage thought, and gave a small shudder as it slipped from his mind. Where did that come from?

Khalfani was jolted from his thoughts as Sabra finally stopped, having directed him to the very spot where he usually slept. The scents of both his parents and his little sister lingered, almost thick enough to drink, in the darkened cave, and the young lion felt comforted by the familiar environment, but he was interrupted as he felt the grip around his tail abruptly stop, and another recognisable body nuzzle against his own. Despite the sudden inflexibility of his own joints, and the great burden on his mind, he still found himself returning Sabra’s affections: he had to find at least some way of thanking her for all she had done, and was still doing.

“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she muttered, her voice barely more than a whisper, “I’m here for you, and I always will be.” Even though Khalfani had known that long before Sabra said it, just the sound of her voice, and her actual confirmation were helping to ease the pain, as did the brief but tender lick she gave his nose. “Just lie down, Khalfani. You’ll feel better after some sleep.”

He obeyed, and felt his legs almost collapse underneath him as he lay down. Though his mind initially tried to protest, the emotional trauma, the physical exhaustion and the sleep deprivation were finally taking their toll after a grief-induced dormancy, and he felt everything become very heavy, right down to his eyelids. However, just before he let his slumber completely envelope him, Khalfani tilted his head to look back up at Sabra, who had lain down slightly apart from him. The chocolate lioness was looking over him almost protectively, occasionally glancing at the opening to the main cave.

“Thanks, honey…” he sighed, before finally shutting his eyes to the world of the living, and entering the one of dreams.

-------

The next thing Khalfani knew, all was bright. The sky was a cloudless blue, and the grasslands shone with a slightly golden glint as the intense summer sun blazed overhead. He was running. And he was laughing almost maniacally. And everything for some reason seemed much bigger than he could remember…

“Gotcha!” came an odd mix between a strained grunt and a playful shout from behind. Recognising the voice, Khalfani turned his head around, still running at a remarkable pace, to see something that tugged painfully at his heartstrings: his father, in mid-leap with massive paws outstretched, bearing down at him from a larger height than normal. He felt those paws enclose his seemingly much smaller form, though gently so as not to be painful. As the two tumbled on the firm, but slightly damp earth, his father pulled him close to his chest, to the point where Khalfani could even feel the older lion’s heartbeat. Once again, the sorrow was almost clawing at his insides, reasserting itself, and yet his facial expression never changed; if anything, his giggling grew louder.

The dizzying motion eventually stopped, before the onset of nausea, as his father came to a rest on his back, and released Khalfani as his forepaws pulled back to rest alongside his head. Finally stopped, the younger lion felt his face being pulled downwards, and he caught sight of himself. No mane, smallish body, and, the clincher, an almost embarrassingly high pitched laugh? He was a cub again. His head shot up, still outside of his control, and as his mind boggled over this first oddity he was greeted with another as he saw his father in greater detail. No cuts, no scratches, no bites, no blood; his majestic brown pelt was immaculate, aside from the specks of sandy-brown dust that had settled haphazardly. Even the ribcage the cub was sitting on felt fully intact. His father just lay there, eyes closed in joy and regal face pulled into a wide grin as he chuckled throatily.

Khalfani was puzzled. What was this? Was it a dream, or was he reliving his memories? Though both seemed to be plausible, he couldn’t be sure. If these were his dreams, then why could he remember everything about this chase, if only after it happened? And why wouldn’t he have control of his body if it was his own fantasy? But if this was a memory, then why was he feeling so down? Why was he not feeling the happiness that his open-mouthed, goofy smile was telling him that he should be experiencing?

But he was pulled away from his reverie as he heard his father’s laughing finally dwindle, and he rose slightly as the King gave a heavy sigh, though when his mouth closed he was still smiling. The lion bent his neck forward to gaze at his child, bringing a forepaw up to pat Khalfani’s fuzzy head.

“I guess you couldn’t get away from me after all, hmm?” he joked, his lips curling wryly. Khalfani could almost feel himself ripping apart at the warm, resonant tones, but once again his cubbish body acted for him.

“Yeah, I guess so…” he replied sheepishly, in a ridiculously high voice, while accepting the calm strokes that his father was running along his spine, arching his body in pleasure. Suddenly, Khalfani felt his mouth contract into an impish grin. “Betcha can’t do it again, though!” he squealed, and sprang off his father’s chest, earning a quiet “oof” from the King, and took off again. However, before he had taken more than a few steps, his vision darkened, and everything suddenly appeared very grainy, before he was enveloped in darkness again.

Once again, the world of colour returned startlingly quickly, but this time it was somehow more muted. Instead of being in the open savannah, he was inside one of the caves on Haven, though for some reason not the Sleeping one. And again, he felt different. He felt stronger, bigger, and somehow much longer-limbed than he rather ought to be. Out of his control, his head tilted, and he caught sight of his father again, and though he felt a great surge of grief within him, it was a bit more subdued than in his last vision. Judging by how much he had grown against his father’s size and by how faded and slightly greying the King’s mane was, he guessed that he was around two years old, maybe a little less due to those overlong legs. Right about when…

“Khalfani,” muttered a quiet, tired voice to his left, and his head snapped to its direction, to face his mother. Her fur was matted and dishevelled, and her eyelids seemed to be drooping at the corners. Yet despite her apparent exhaustion, she was beaming up at him from where she was lying on the cave floor, and there seemed to be a proud gleam in her eyes. Still smiling, her lips parted.

“Here she is…”

And the lioness unfurled her cream paws, which seemed to be wrapped around something, a something which revealed itself to be a tiny, brownish lion cub, eyes still closed and ears pinned right back, sleeping soundly against her mother’s forelimbs, her fragile body rising and falling in a quick, but entirely calm rhythm. Masaada lowered her to stare adoringly at her daughter, and, if it could, her smile extended further. “Little Afla,” she concluded in barely more than a whisper, before finishing with a gentle lick to her daughter’s fuzzy forehead.

Two thoughts had crossed Khalfani’s mind as he gazed at his very little sister. One matched his former self’s facial expression: his softer, more heart-driven side going aww…

The other was rather more frantic. Great Kings! Afla! In all of the heartache and the emotion and the mental blankness of his father’s passing, all thoughts of his late sister had been driven out of his mind. I’m so sorry, Afla. How could you have slipped my mind so easily? Guilt was starting to course through him, and he was sure that, were he in full control of his body, he would be breaking down in ashamed weeping by now. Forgive me, Afla. You didn’t deserve to be forgotten. All he could think to do was apologise endlessly to his sibling, to the point where, despite this being one of his most treasured memories, he was actually startled when pulled out of his reverie by the sound of his father’s ever calm voice.

“How does it feel being a big brother, son?” he inquired quietly, his usually stable bass cracking somewhat through obvious joy. Apparently he had been staring at the slumbering cub for quite a long time, in complete silence. Khalfani found himself taking a deep, slightly rattling breath before he answered, tilting his head to face the old lion again, noting the beads of moisture in the corners of those amber eyes.

“Never been happier,” he murmured, tearing up himself and breaking out into a smile to rival his mothers, as he nuzzled his father. Of course, had he been in true control, his would have shown his father much more affection than the brief touch his memory had. However, before he could continue the vision, and trot over to the reclining lioness and give Alfa a more personal greeting, the scene dissolved again.

This happened again and again, as Khalfani found himself flitting between various memories, ranging from the seemingly trivial to the life-changing, though it seemed he would never forget any of them now. After his sister’s birth, there was a recollection of a time when he and Afla were taking it in turns to pounce on a sedentary lizard, which morphed into a later memory where he and his entire family were stargazing on a cool, still night at the summit of Haven. This in turn gave way to his later adolescence, and a lesson in kingship from Umeme, which still held his attention despite the back-flips his mind was going through. The words of wisdom faded to when his father had taken him to visit the Pridelands, and meet his new cousin, Simba. The pair frolicked in the open savannah, whilst their respective fathers remained on the monolith that was Pride Rock, observing from the high vantage point while they talked. Khalfani’s mind had almost settled down during this happy memory, but even this soon vanished, and was replaced with something that chilled him, though he was surprised that hadn’t been haunted by it before this point.

He was running again, this time under pale moonlight, and again his were not the only footsteps: the light, rapid thuds from behind told him that Amana was also racing to the same destination. One which he already knew, and his thoughts mirrored the look of terror on his barely-younger self. No…No! he begged, though to what he didn’t know. Not this, anything but this.

But he couldn’t stop himself; he was once again a passenger in his own body. Dread almost physically filled him, as he spotted two silhouettes in the distance, growing larger with each desperate step. They were his parents. They were both staring at something lying before them in the grass. His mother was evidently leaning heavily against his father.

As he neared them, Khalfani felt his movements become even more distressed before he finally stopped, heaving for breath barely a paw-width from his destination: his sister. Alfa was stretched out between the three older lions, and not a single part of her was moving. No breath entered her lungs, and not even her fur stirred in the still air, almost mockingly emphasising the cruel truth.

There were numerous cuts and slashes in her pelt, and despite the liberal amount of earth that had nestled in them and sullied the wounds, none of them seemed life-threatening. Even the odd angle that the adolescent’s jaw hung at seemed like a serious, but still curable injury, especially with Amana’s skill. It was then Khalfani’s eyes, which had been circling around Afla’s body, came to rest on a depression along her back and the odd angle that her hind-legs seemed to be at compared with the rest of her, and his former self’s mouth fell open as he realised what he had already knew: her spine had been severed.

Against his command, but not against his will, his gaze was forced upwards to look at his parents, as tears made their presence known. His mother had buried her face into her mate’s shoulder, clearly unable to even look at her daughter’s body, as her own shook with every heart-wrenching sob. His father was the opposite, staring down at his little girl intently, the occasional droplet picking its way though his fur. Though he was obviously distraught, Khalfani could see that his father’s hackles were slowly rising; his breathing was rapid but very heavy, and there was a deepest fury in those amber eyes that he would never have imagined could exist.

Unable to take this memory anymore, Khalfani resorted to pleading once again, to his…subconscious? Please: anything else, any other memory, just not this! Whatever it was appeared to have listened, as on cue, his vision darkened beyond the night, and as Khalfani considered the ramifications of moving ahead in time, colour returned. And sure enough, he immediately wished that it hadn’t.

All he could see was two lions a fair distance away, on their hind legs and grappling furiously with each other. He felt his face stretch out again, as he recognised his father as the slightly larger of the two as the moon momentarily shone on Umeme’s back. He watched, transfixed, as the pair each landed a monstrous final blow on the other’s muzzle, and fell down with a loud thud each, interjected by a dull crack, as he heard his father’s leg snapping. Both lay there, unmoving, as Khalfani felt himself being pulled by something…

In a flash, the young lion’s eyes were open, and he was breathing deeply and quickly. Calming his heaving chest, his eyes darted through the gloom of the cave, and he quickly worked out that he was awake again, not least because his body was back under his control. Not like in those visions, that continued to play in his mind as Khalfani simply lay there, contemplating.

From the emotional void of last night, and the brief confusion in his first waking moments, he was now faced with all the pain and grief that continued to fill his heart. His face screwed up, almost like a cub’s, and he began to shudder as his breathing quickly became gasps as the subdued anguish from the previous night flooded his brain. However, before his misery manifested itself in a complete breakdown, he was once again pulled from his thoughts by a voice. A quiet, strangely intonated voice.

“Sire?”

Khalfani blinked back the film of moisture that clouded his eyes, before bringing his head upwards from his curled sleeping-posture to face the passage back to the main cave, where his ears told him the voice was emanating from. A diminutive hornbill, his black feathers speckled with blobs of white, stared back. From his downcast expression and hunched neck, it seemed the aptly named Zuberi wanted nothing more than to shrink quickly into the wall and avoid further intrusion. However, his sense of duty as major-domo appeared to return just as fast, and the little bird cleared his throat.

“We have visitors, sire,” he said regally. “They’re making their way to Haven now. You should be able to see them from the cave entrance.” Khalfani nodded in reply, and Zuberi promptly flew away to leave the new king to his thoughts. He had been called ”˜sire’. He could feel his face bubbling up again, and his breathing hasten as the full weight of the seemingly insignificant title hit him. His father was gone. Really gone. He was king now, and it was his responsibility to lead the pride. This, oddly, had the effect of calming the lion, as his mind wandered to one of his father’s teachings.

“Son…no king is without emotion. You simply wouldn’t be alive without them. But as king, you need to be in control of your emotions and keep your mind from clouding. You can act upon your feelings, certainly, but only in a way that would be beneficial to the pride, as that is your duty as leader. Do you understand what I mean?”

Khalfani had answered “yes” at the time, but in a non-committal way, as he couldn’t possibly have fully comprehended their meaning at the time. But now he could. He was king now, and he had to put aside his sorrows, however raw they were, and focus on whoever these arrivals were. With measured difficulty, to the point where he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to, he curtailed his inner turmoil and brought himself to his paws.

As he rose, he caught sight of Sabra, and his gaze lingered for a moment on her comforting form. She was still lying in the same position, and if her eyes were not softly closed and her head tilted, he guessed she would still be maintaining her vigil, and he wanted desperately to give her some affection in appreciation. But he quickly ascertained from her posture that she had only been very lightly asleep, and merely for a brief time. After everything she had done for him, he didn’t want to disturb her. As Khalfani stretched his neck to rid himself of lingering grogginess, he caught sight of his mother on his other side, and it was clear that she, understandably, wasn’t having the best night’s sleep either; further confirmed as the elderly lioness’ jaw quivered from her dreams, and her whole body twitched momentarily. Judging by the way the dust and dirt on the cave floor had been disturbed around him, and that neither his mother nor Sabra were close enough to be resting against him, he too had been moving in his sleep.

Involuntarily, he found his thoughts drifting back to his dreams, and firmly shook his head to steer them away again. He had to concentrate; he had a duty to attend to, even if he didn’t particularly want it. Sure, he had been excited about the day he would become King, but he never thought, nay, never hoped, it would happen like this. Again, he had to stop his mind from delving too far along its current path, and began to pick his way through the cave.

His eyes flickered lazily from side to side in the low light, making sure that he was avoiding the sleeping lions, lionesses and cubs; his subjects. He could see that he was the only soul awake in the cavern, until he neared the entrance at least, where he spotted another small form: an orange cub with black tufts on his head, and oddly on his ears as well.

Khalfani paused for a moment, as he saw the cubs face break out into an open-mouthed grin. “Chumvi!” the cub, whose name he recalled as Malka, squealed breathlessly, and took off into the open. The King was puzzled. He knew this cub, and also that Malka had had very little to smile about recently: aside from the near-chaos to the previous night, his older brother had left the pride.

Years ago, long before any of those in his present company had been born, Kings Mohatu and Elimu of the Pridelands and Upper Eastlands respectively, had decided upon a Code of Laws for their prides. It consisted of three rules, plus an occasionally added piece of common knowledge, that had changed the traditional leonine societies in their lands for the infinite better. One of the Laws, was that any lion or lioness was to be given a chance to become a member of either pride, be they an adult male (who would have previously been exiled from the pride for competitive reasons) or a rogue (who would have simply been ousted from the lands), under the condition that they pledge undying and unswerving loyalty to the true King or Queen.

Though the Law had allowed many lions to remain in the Upper Eastlands after its codification, it did not mean that the males were forced to stay, and Ni had become the latest to leave his homeland, and embark on his own adventure. Needless to say, despite the adolescent’s assurances that he would one day see him again, Malka had been devastated to see his brother’s form growing smaller and smaller against the endless savannah, and had not left the Sleeping Cave since. What could have rejuvenated him so quickly?

The King pressed on to the mouth of the cave, and as the golden sun crested the horizon on his left, began to scan the lands below for signs of the visiting animals, or any life for that matter. It didn’t take long for his cerulean eyes to pick out a collection of four lionesses of various coloured pelts. Though he could not recognise them from this distance, he could see that they were not a threat from their slow, almost solemn gait, and the fact that there were other, much smaller bodies around them: lionesses with cubs were not aggressive. Protective of their young certainly, but their aims were always peaceful; there was simply too much at risk to be otherwise. That, and an orange streak was busily making his way towards them, and Khalfani knew that Malka was not a cub to knowingly put himself in danger, despite his apparent tendency to get lost.

Slowly, and feeling the nerves build up to occupy the space previously reserved for his subdued misery, Khalfani set off down the hill the welcome the lionesses. This was exacerbated somewhat as the lion felt the early morning breeze caress his side, and he suddenly felt very cool; his pelt strangely clingy. He realised he was still clammy with sweat from his dreams. He managed to convince himself to put this issue to one side, but the chill left him a little more anxious.

As he reached the base of Haven, and the ground levelled out, he saw that Malka had finally caught up to the group, and appeared to be chattering quite animatedly with them: his high-pitched voice carried snippets back to Khalfani across the dawn air. However, fairly quickly, the lead lioness dropped her head to whisper in his ear, and his ears drooped, only to be raised up once more as she added something else. The orange cub quickly doubled back on himself, scampering back to the Sleeping Cave as though under orders, though he was careful to stay out of Khalfani’s way.

With the cub taken care of, he was finally close enough, and the sun had risen enough, to focus clearly on the approaching felines, though he concentrated on the apparent leader as they continued to draw nearer. Her muscular legs that indicated a vast hunting experience; her dark tan pelt; her calm, but purposeful expression and high, broad nose, both of which seemed to exude nobility and dignity. It all pointed to one name.

“Good morning, Sarabi!” he said in greeting, trying to keep his voice cheery though still somewhat muted, as he drew close to the Queen. In fact, he was not the only one who seemed down, as he could finally tell from this proximity to the party, that something was wrong. There was a definite aura of depression around the group, all of whom had limp, downcast expressions. There was also a salty musk hanging around them, and combined with several damp muzzles, it seemed several of them had been crying en route. Plus, the smallest of the cubs had his paws clamped around his mother’s foreleg, and appeared to still be silently weeping. Maybe they’ve heard of…what happened, Khalfani pondered.

Sarabi’s neutral look cracked into a small smile before she responded. “The same to you too, Khalfani.” The queen then perked her head upwards to the entrance of the Sleeping Cave, her brownish-red eyes lingering on the dark cavern for a moment, before they returned to face the lion in front of her. “Is your father awake yet? Not that isn’t a pleasure to see you, but there is something we need to discuss with him, and urgently.”

Khalfani’s felt all the wind leave his chest, and he began to tear up once again, but fought against it. He was not going to break down now, even if Sarabi had, totally unknowingly, reminded him of his predicament. As he succeeded in quelling one dilemma, another arose: they didn’t know. How was he going to tell them, particularly when they already seemed to have a major problem of their own to deal with? Quickly, the lion gathered his thoughts and began to ”˜excuse’ his father.

“He… he was taken ill last night, and he’s been sleeping rather poorly recently. Amana says he’ll be fine after some rest, though.” Khalfani nearly winced as he said his father was sleeping, but pressed on again. “But he said that if there were any problems while he was recuperating, he entrusted me to handle them.” He quickly had to clench his jaw to stop it from trembling once more.

Sarabi took the resulting stoic expression to be one of newfound responsibility and trust, as well as showing that he was not willing to divulge in the details of his father’s sickness. Though the situation was indeed odd, and she had never known Umeme to eschew his royal duties before, he was fairly elderly, around the age when lions became prone to illness. Plus, Khalfani was not one to lie over matters like this. Besides, the King was easily reachable, even if he would not be best pleased about being awoken during his recovery. “Very well,” she decided, “this would be good experience for you after all, were it not for the circumstances.” Her face changed to mirror her pride sisters’.

Don’t I know it, Khalfani thought exasperatedly, but pressed on. There did genuinely seem to be a serious problem. “Why? What’s wrong?” he enquired.

He heard her breath rattle as it passed her lips. “It’s about Mufasa,” she whispered. Khalfani had almost reckoned such before, as there was a distinct lack of a mane amongst the Pridelanders. He wondered why he had thought they knew of his father’s passing, when surely Umeme’s nephew would be one of the first to arrive to pass condolences and share emotions? But now that thought had passed, Khalfani was again puzzled, as it seemed odd that the King had not journeyed with his Queen and the other lionesses to resolve whatever this difficulty was. Unless…

“What about him?” he asked, a new dread already forming.

Sarabi gave a great shudder, and looked away. “He’s dead,” she breathed out, blinking rapidly.

Khalfani’s heart skipped a beat. “He’s what!” he blurted without thinking, and heard the lioness take a deep, almost cleansing breath, so that when their eyes met again, despite the film of moisture over her pair, the rest of her face had returned to its almost eerie calm, though Khalfani could see there was a great tide of anguish being held back behind the serene look.

“He and Simba… were caught in a stampede yesterday.” Khalfani could feel the claws shredding his insides again. Simba too? That little bundle of energy, who always seemed to be on the go, and his father, Mufasa, the kindly and good-humoured but powerful king, who Khalfani had nothing but admiration for…gone.

After a few moments of looking at the ground in shock, Khalfani wrestled his gaze back to Sarabi, and felt a rush of respect, as well as the expected sympathy, for the apparently fallen Queen. Here she was, far from home, having lost her entire family, surely a much more fatal blow than his own; he still at least had his mother and Sabra to thank The Kings for. Mates for life were meant to be exactly that, and…no parent should ever have to lose a child. The sight burned into his eyelids of his parents grieving over Alfa’s corpse was testament to that. And yet she wasn’t breaking down, as he had done. No, she was here, leading her pride to solve…whatever this still-unknown crisis was.

But before then, he had to offer some form of solace, and settled for giving her a brief, but hopefully comforting nuzzle on the side of her face, whispering, “I’m so sorry for you, Sarabi,” before pulling his head back.

She flashed a grateful smile, before he opened his mouth again. “If there’s anything-”

“Thank you, Khalfani,” she interrupted, but not in a rude way. “I appreciate the thought, but for now there is a more pressing matter.”

How could anything be more important than this? Khalfani pushed the thought back. “Such as?”

“Scar has assumed the throne…and he has re-enacted the Cubs Ritual.” Sarabi closed her eyes, fearing that her emotions would overpower her, as the memories of that awful declaration flooded back.

-------

Just after the announcement of his ascension, Scar descended the steps on the side of Pride Rock. A superior smirk beginning to break out, he made his way resolutely towards one particular member of the pride, who had been left alone with her thoughts as the rest of his subjects had been escorted to the main cave by his new entourage.

“Sarabi,” he said coolly, vanquishing his smile, and waited as she raised her grief-laden head to his level.

“Yes, Scar,” she replied with surprisingly equal iciness. The normally collected queen was clearly, and understandably, under great duress. Not that her plight meant anything to the new King.

“As you may have guessed, you have been relieved of you duties as Queen. However…I can still think of one use for you.”

“Really?” Sarabi had no yearning for power; though she had enjoyed it alongside her beloved, without her family at her side, and with the well-masked turmoil within her, it meant absolutely nothing, so this ”˜official’ removal had little affect on her. Besides, her pride sisters would sooner look to her for advice and leadership than to their new queen.

“Of course; you have a great following amongst the pride, and I have a message for them. I believe it would be far more suitable for you to deliver it, given…recent events.” His already vibrant eyes appeared to flash at these final words, and Sarabi had to bite her tongue as she heard the trivializing manner in which he spoke of her loss. After a very deep breath, and many suppressed insults, their conversation continued.

“Well?”

“Tell them that after my coronation, I want all of the male cubs to be left on the promontory. The Ritual is being performed again.”

It was as if he had clawed at her heart. He couldn’t do this. He may be king, but he was still bound by the Code of Laws, of which the second explicitly outlawed this barbaric, needless practice.

“Why?” she asked, desperately trying to keep her voice stable.

“Hmm? Sorry, didn’t quite catch that.” Scar seemed genuinely surprised that his rule was being questioned, though he still sounded in complete control of the discussion.

“Why? Why do you need to perform The Ritual? Why do these cubs need to be murdered?” Sarabi deliberately allowed a little of her incense to penetrate her voice, and carry it to perhaps where the rest of the pride could hear her. Scar appeared to recoil, and his eyes grew wide momentarily.

“Murder is such a harsh word, Sarabi. I prefer to think of it as…using an old ceremony for its intended purpose-”

“They’re cubs, Scar,” she spat, feeling her hackles begin to rise, though she managed to stop herself and calm her voice before she continued, “what sort of challenge could they give you?”

“They won’t be cubs forever,” he stated simply. Sarabi couldn’t be too sure, but was that fear she saw bubbling up in his eyes? Whatever it was, the lion was able to hide it well when he next opened his mouth. “That is why they must be removed, so that they will never become a threat,” his statement was punctuated with finality, and he turned to leave.

“You can’t do this!” she gasped at Scar’s retreating form, the sheer terror now paralysing her vocal chords. He turned around, an arrogant smile curling at the edges of his mouth.

“Oh, but I can, Sarabi. And besides, I shall spare the females: after all, we will need a new generation of hunters soon.” He paused, as if daring her to question his authority again. “My coronation will take place in two days. Plenty of time for a fond farewell, don’t you think?” Her calm façade ended, and her mouth hung open as the dark lion re-ascended the monolith, to the throne he would surely take for himself. At that moment, Sarabi vowed that she would do all in her power to save those cubs. Somehow, someway, she would make sure that no other mother would have to experience what she was going through.

Thus, later that night, while the hyenas were still exploring their new surroundings rather than guarding anything important, she and the mothers of the three remaining male cubs fled to their nearest neighbours; to the lands of a fair, understanding King, who would surely sympathise with their plight.

Khalfani stared; once again, his very breath had been shocked out of him. No. Surely not. He had to admit, there was something about Scar that had always unnerved him slightly. He couldn’t quite put his paw on it: he was polite, he never fought with anyone, Simba would even rave about him. Khalfani had to momentarily stop and suppress the memories of his cousin’s happy voice that filled his ears.

Still, the only vaguely sinister thing that he could remember about Scar, was that he was very solitary: odd, for a member of such a social species. But this…this went beyond sinister. This was downright cruel. Not only that, it also went against everything that Mohatu and Elimu had strived for with their Laws; it went against the very fabric of the Pridelands, and mocked his ancestors.

“So…” Khalfani started, suddenly aware that he had been silent for quite a while, but before he could continue, another voice piped up.

“Please, Khalfani, please let our cubs stay in your pride,” begged one of the other lionesses, a rather young looking mother on the verge of tears, though she was silenced by a nuzzle from her ochre cub.

Sarabi continued on her behalf. “I know this is a great deal to ask of your pride, Khalfani, but…I don’t know of anyone else who would help us.”

Khalfani weighed up the options, and reached his decision very quickly. Yes, allowing four extra cubs into the pride would undoubtedly cause some tensions, and there would quite possibly be an increased demand from the hunters, but he didn’t know if he could live with himself if he willingly sent those cubs back to their deaths. The desperate looks from the three mothers and their cubs only bolstered this sensation of not-quite-apparent guilt. But, with something like this, he would have to ask the opinion of the pride. It wasn’t that there were doubts over his right to the throne; sadly, he was the one remaining heir of Umeme. But as his pride would be the ones caring for the cubs, it would only be fair to have their permission.

He sighed, and parted his lips. “I have no problem with your little ones staying here, and I’m sure my father wouldn’t either.” Instantly the eight faces brightened. “But…” and there went those smiles, “as the lionesses, and not myself, will be the ones looking after them if they stay, it’s only right that they should agree too. I’m sure they will, though,” he added, trying to keep their spirits up, despite the mingling feelings of fear, dread and heartache within himself. “Follow me, I’ll summon the pride near Haven.”

As the group trekked back towards the verdant mound, Khalfani noticed that the mood around them seemed to be lighter, more buoyant. He also started to notice small details about the cubs that may or may not become part of his pride. The ochre cub from earlier was, oddly, being trailed by four blue birds. There was a very pale cub that was now being carried in his mother’s jaws due to his very young age; he appeared to be barely past weaning, if at all. And finally, there was a pair of dark-brown twins, one of them with a tuft of fur on his head, a natural way to separate the pair.

Presently, they arrived at the foot of Haven, and stopped. Khalfani gathered his thoughts. This was it: the first time he would be truly leading the pride, though he was being constantly reminded of why he was being forced into this responsibility now. Dreading slightly what could lay ahead, and of the moment when the Pridelanders would find out about…last night, he raised his mouth to the steadily brightening heavens and closed his eyes.

Moment of truth, he thought, before drawing his head back in a great inhalation, and releasing it back as a loud, potent, but somewhat strangled, roar. He reawakened his sight, and spotted the other pride members slowly making their way downhill towards him.



Continued (for now) in Post 6.
Last edited by Arbarano on October 26th, 2010, 12:14 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby AdAstrα » August 14th, 2010, 6:47 pm

That was....amazing :O You are a great author! I wish I was half as talented as you,looking forward to reading more!
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Azdgari » August 15th, 2010, 6:42 pm

Very impressive, Arbarano! This is quite a debut. You write in a wonderfully descriptive and creative way, painting beautiful pictures in our heads with clever word choices and use of metaphors and similes throughout. There's not a whole lot for me to critique (Aquaman52 is an incredible fic writer, so I'd imagine with him betareading your material it'll tough to pick out many errors) but I'm very interested to see where it goes from here. You've set the stage for quite a story and I'm excited to watch it develop! Keep it up! ^^
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Arbarano » August 18th, 2010, 11:00 am

Wow. Thanks for all the positive feedback guys :)

QueenofPrideRock, thanks so much for the comliment, but you're a great author yourself. And I'm glad that you're impressed Azdgari, especially considering how good your own story is.

Anyway, chapter two is now up, so enjoy!
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Azdgari » August 18th, 2010, 3:25 pm

Wonderful again, Arbarano! Some very interesting ideas are developing. You've got me hooked on this story. ^^

The only thing that threw me for a loop in this chapter -- You describe how there are three laws all lions must follow, it seemed odd that you only mentioned one and not the other two. I was sort of confused when you only mentioned the one and then continued on with the story (although I saw later it was insinuated that banning the Cubship Ceremony was a second one) Just some thoughtful criticism. =]
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Arbarano » October 26th, 2010, 11:52 am

Chapter Three

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Khalfani kept his eyes trained on the entrance to the Sleeping Cave, a distinct sense of unease growing deep within his chest alongside his other unpleasant feelings, as the near-thirty strong pride emerged in varying stages of waking consciousness; it seemed that silence was not one of Malka’s top priorities upon his return. But whether they were merely blinking the final remnants of sleep from their eyes, or stretching a forelimb with a pained expression, or even carrying their young cub in the case of Sanaa, who had only recently given birth, one thing was common throughout the whole pride: a subdued, almost sullen look on every face that strode towards the small gathering at the foot of Haven, one that formed a stark contrast to the vibrant azure backdrop the hill was set against.

He watched the traditional meeting circle slowly form at the base of the hill as the groggy lions and lionesses ambled into their places, and either looked at their new king with a mixture of expectancy and sympathy or talked quietly among themselves. Khalfani felt a fresh wave of nausea hit him as he saw the savage scratches and deep bites still marring the pelts of many among the pride. However, this was alleviated when he also noticed that Amana’s skills and concoctions had worked; all the wounds had been cleaned of dirt and their scarlet yields, and though one or two lionesses were still moving awkwardly to prevent their skin from reopening, the injuries did seem to be healing. Or at least, they weren’t causing too much discomfort. He was also glad to see that all of them gave their guests a polite, if occasionally slightly confused, nod as they passed, though Khalfani still felt his insides being clogged with worry as the time drew nearer.

But this anxiety was diminished the instant he saw Sabra and his mother emerge from the hollow, and he gave a small smile at their relieved expressions. Apparently, they had awoken before his call. Khalfani felt a twinge of guilt as he remembered how much he had tried not to disturb them when he first left the cave. But, he was able to reason to himself that this was at least something important that the pride were being called to.

He watched as Sabra quickened her pace down the slope toward him after a final check over her shoulder to see if Masaada could manage on her own, also paying her respects to the Pridelanders on her way by. Once she reached Khalfani, the pair shared a quick but tender nuzzle, and both managed a smile for the benefit of the other. Khalfani could see the reluctance radiating from Sabra’s soft, grey eyes as she slowly went to her spot in the circle alongside her mother and brother. There was some lurking in his own expression as well; he had been hoping to get a chance at least thank Sabra before the meeting began. With an almost inaudible sigh, Khalfani returned his gaze to his mother.

She was back with Sarabi, the queens greeting each other with a head bump and some quiet words that he couldn’t pick up. However, he noticed two things as he saw his mother resume her walk to the circle; one, that both of the lionesses could tell something was very wrong with the other, if they hadn’t already mentioned it; and two, that his mother seemed much calmer this morning. She was more like her usual, almost serene self, though as with Sarabi earlier he could still tell there was a vast wave of heartache dammed up somewhere behind that calm. He could see behind his mother, that the dark tan lioness was staring intently at him. It wasn’t an angry stare, though Sarabi did seem concerned.

She’s probably wondering where my father is, Khalfani deduced, still dreading the moment when she would discover his lie, and he had to stop his mind from retracing the inevitable path back to his father’s passing.

Presently, his thoughts were interrupted by his mother drawing near, and after a brief relapse into despair after greeting Sarabi, the elderly lioness’ face rose again as she crossed necks with her son, and in the short time before the leonine hug inevitably ended they were the only two beings in their own little world, As she pulled away, Masaada parted her lips, but again not a sound escaped, and her chin briefly trembled: clearly the memories of last night were still painfully raw. In lieu of speaking, she just closed her eyes for a few moments.

“Make us proud, Khalfani,” she finally whispered, reawakening her cerulean gaze to give him a fortifying look with an accompanying smile, before sitting down in the circle on his left.

This abruptly pulled Khalfani back to reality, and his emotions threatened to overtake his composure once again, but he managed to hold them back; the Pridelanders needed him to. Steering his thoughts away from his father, he turned back to the assembled pride, and saw that they were all there. Noticeably dishevelled and expectantly disgruntled, but still they were all there. The young king gave a cough, simultaneously quieting his subjects and removing the strange lump that had developed in his throat, and all eyes turned to him. For the second time, he felt as though those stares were burrowing into him, and a punch of nerves surged through him. With a deep breath, he began his first address to his pride.

“Thank you, everyone…” he said before pausing, the competing emotions making it difficult to pick his next words. And he would have to choose them carefully, given the tension within the pride. “I’m sorry for waking you all so early, particularly after…last night,” Hopefully, the dark-tan queen wouldn’t pick up on that. “But…this is quite urgent.”

With this, he shot a glance at the lioness in question, who was still gazing back at him with an enigmatic expression, though he could see that the mothers were all beaming at him. Their hopeful sentiments somehow gave him the strength to continue his speech, and alleviate his guilty conscience.

“Ours was not the only pride to lose its king yesterday.” The words stung as they flowed past his lips, and Khalfani had to again steady himself; he didn’t dare look at his mother’s surely heart wretched face as he carried on. “Mufasa and his son, Simba were caught in a stampede.” His overtaxed mind simply couldn’t think of any other way to articulate the death of his cousins, aside from how Sarabi had.

The adult members of the pride, as one, looked over to the fallen Queen with faces of utmost sympathy; a few, including Sabra, seemed itching to trot over to the lioness and personally reassure her. The cubs’ reaction was different. One or two of the older ones also gave Sarabi a compassionate face, but most of them looked at the floor, another heavy blow on their previously innocent existences. From behind, he heard one of the Pridelanders, presumably the youngest cub, resume their choking, oddly muffled sobs. Khalfani thought it best to move on, lest the full impact of the untimely, brutal deaths of half of his close family strike him down.

“Scar has become King of the Pridelands,” he continued. Again, the words were bitter on his tongue, though this time for a different reason; how a lion who had violated two of the three Laws deserved the title of King was beyond him. He shuddered to think of what Sarabi would make of that statement. “And he has decided to revive the Cubs Ritual.” Again, he paused to let the pride emote.

And emote they did, as an almost collective gasp among the adults in the pride, particularly the mothers, rent the cool morning air, and the pride descended into quiet, but agitated mutterings. An elderly lioness, Idili, one of the few left in the pride who had lived under Elimu, shook her age-whitened head in disbelief. The mothers in the pride all pulled their cubs, who appeared to have no idea of what this Ritual was, instinctively closer to themselves; a few even nuzzled them comfortingly, making sure they were safe. Meanwhile, the reactions of two of the males, two of those who were normally tasked with guarding the lands, were ones of concentrated, exquisite anger. Again, the king decided to hurry along with his speech, before things escalated.

“That’s why we have some guests this morning,” he explained, gesturing to the foreign lionesses and cubs with his head, though he was careful to not let his eyes linger on them for too long. “These cubs are no longer safe in the Pridelands, so Sarabi and their mothers have brought them to us, hoping that we would be kind enough to look after their children while they cannot.” He was glad to see looks of understandings breaking out amongst the circle, as well as glances to their four potential new pride members.

“So, these cubs will be staying with our pride until they can safely return home. I know that some problems may arise from this, most likely an extra strain with the hunting…” At this, he quickly glanced at Duni, the Head Huntress, who seemed to be contemplating the matter. It would be her overall responsibility to keep the new cubs fed, and he had seen earlier that the less fuzzy dark-brown twin bore the hallmarks of a healthy appetite. “But in our numbers and the grace of the Kings, we will find our strength. So, does anyone have an objection to letting these cubs stay?”

This was it; the choice was finally being made, and he felt a knot tighten in his stomach despite his total authority over the end judgment. He could easily overrule his pride, though his father’s wisdom advised him to do so sparingly. The look of consideration on the face of the Head Huntress had yet to disappear, and it worried Khalfani even further.

“What do you think, Duni?” he asked, hoping that he was just being paranoid. The lioness’s attention snapped to him.

“Oh- nothing, Sire,” she affirmed, somewhat embarrassed, “I was just a little confused. Four doesn’t seem to be enough cubs for such a large pride.” Duni turned to Sarabi for an answer, and Khalfani followed her gaze, having had the same question brewing since the meeting began. The queen seemed taken aback, as her eyes widened momentarily, revealing a deep, sore redness where white normally prevailed.

“You’re right,” she admitted in a resigned tone, her noble stance slackening slightly. “These aren’t all the cubs from our pride. Scar declared that he would only apply the Ritual for the males, and the three…they’re all here.” Khalfani noticed her voice wavered on the word ‘three’, and she had to pause to steady herself.

“As for Kula,” Sarabi continued, gesturing with her nose to the smoother-headed, apparently female brown cub, “she is her brother’s littermate, and…we couldn’t split them.”

With memories of his own sister still fresh on his mind, Khalfani understood their plight perfectly. Halting his thoughts before they delved any further along that route, he turned his head back to the pride.

“Any further questions?” he asked, his anxiety starting to make a return visit. But this time he need not have worried, as most of the pride either smiled or nodded at him. Not a single voice questioned his measure.

Buoyed by his success—though he could never have imagined the pride not accepting the cubs—Khalfani broke out into a true smile for the first time in his still infantile reign as King. He could feel tears of gratitude beginning to well up in his eyes, but he managed to hold most of them back. He turned to the assembled Pridelanders, who shared his expression.

“They can stay,” he announced simply, his overwhelmed voice cracking the final word. The relief was obvious to see on the Pridelanders’ faces, and even the smallest cub had stopped crying, even if they were still clamped to their mother’s foreleg. But this was not the end of the matter, and he turned, almost reluctantly, back to the pride.

“Thank you,” his voice regaining some of its stability, “but I also need three volunteers to personally take care of them while they stay.” After a few moments, two lionesses, one beige and well into middle-age, the other quite young with a rich brown pelt, and both flecked with bands of raw red from light claw wounds, stepped forward, each declaring “I will,” in unison.

Khalfani took a moment to reflect on the volunteers. The elder, Hirizi, he did not know intimately, though he had been around her long enough to know that she was a patient and caring soul who often looked after other lionesses’ cubs while they were hunting, as she had none of her own. He had grown up with the other, Subira, though, and he was a little uneasy about trusting her with something as important as this. She was a nice enough lioness and he would definitely consider her a friend, but she was not blessed with a particularly long temper, nor was she too fond of bending the rules.

Still, he reasoned, she’s not incompetent. She wouldn’t do anything stupid with the c-

“Me too!”

The third female voice pulled him from his thoughts, and he whirled his head around to face the lioness in question. It was Duni. He was slightly puzzled by this; she had her own cub to look after. He knew what path his mind would tread after that, and abruptly stepped off the trail. Still, her son Imara had to be at least a year old; it wasn’t as though her attention was completely occupied by him. He supposed that he would have to be satisfied with that.

“It’s settled, then,” he declared, the wide smile working its way back across his face as he spoke. “The rest of you are free to go, but…” The smile went away, as memories of the previous night came flooding back for the umpteenth time. “I might call you back later for…something else.” The lions and lionesses gave their new king a respectful nod before going their separate ways, although some lingered briefly to encourage and praise those who had volunteered, or to finally pass condolences to Sarabi and the other Pridelanders.

“Well done,” he heard a whisper to his left, and felt his mother rub her cheek along his neck. Despite the snippets of conversation in his head constantly reminding him of why he was leading the pride, he couldn’t help but feel proud. He did it. He had led the pride. He’d saved the cubs!

“Thanks, Mum,” he mumbled back, gratefully returning the affection with his eyes closed in a moment of calm. When they reopened, his mother was still beaming at him, though he could see her eyes were steadily moistening.

“I’ll see you later,” she murmured, her voice cracking on the last word, and stiffly trotted off back up the side of Haven, her tail limply dragging through the drying grass. In fact, most of the pride had traipsed up the slope and made their way back to the Sleeping Cave as well, though he could see out of the corner of his eye that a few had gone to a nearby waterhole, surely to gossip about what had just happened in the den. He let his eyes linger on his mother for a few moments; long enough for him to see a familiar chocolate-furred form disappear into the gloomy cave entrance, with a yellow cub bounding around her ankles. He felt a stab of irritation as she vanished from view, though it was quickly buried under other, rather larger feelings; in the lull, all of his anguish was once again screaming for release, and he had to fight hard to keep it at bay.

He turned around to face the remaining lionesses and cubs, and felt another small smile tug at his lips. After all of his worry about potential personality clashes and whatnot, the group seemed to be gelling nicely, even though the mood among them remained understandably cheerless. A light-tan Pridelander, the one whom he remembered had carried her cub into Haven, noticed his attention, and swiftly ushered the group into quiet. He almost wished that she hadn’t; he hadn’t quite decided what to say next.

“Umm…” he stammered for a moment before his mind spun itself into working order again. “Well, since I don’t know all of you too well, would you ladies be all right to sort this out among yourselves?” he finally managed to get out.

He was sure that he heard Subira caustically whisper “What d’you think we’re trying to do?” before the same brightly-pelted lioness spoke up again.

“Of course,” she said with a smile, and with that she turned her attention back to the other lionesses, who huddled together and picked up their discussion right where they had left off.

This left the young king sitting on his haunches, alone with his thoughts and feeling that chilling fog from last night invade his chest once again. Desperately, he tried to keep his mind from drifting back to his father and his sister and the dreams that he had endured last night by focusing all of his willpower on the first kingly issue that came to mind.

unting?

Not that he did much himself, but it couldn’t hurt to familiarise himself with the huntresses among the pride, could it? Except all he could think about right now his father congratulating Afla on making an impressive kill for an adolescent, as his sister had brought down a young impala while his mother was teaching her.

Food?

That just brought up the last meal he had spent with his complete family. After these two failures, he remembered the day that he, Sabra, and his friend Asani had spent at a far corner of the kingdom. Sure that couldn’t lead back to his family? But as he recalled, while he had spent that day making those cuddly, heart-warming memories, his sister-

“Khalfani?”

The familiar, calm voice of Sarabi mercifully pulled him out of his thoughts before he could relive that particular recollection. It also made him aware of the beads of moisture that had crept into his eyes—as stealthily as a huntress, as stealthily as his sister stalking that impala—and he tried to blink them back. Instead, he ended up forcing them to make their path down his face, and finally picked his head up.

“Yes?” he asked, voice cracking, and saw the dark-tan queen in the corner of his over-filled eyes, seated next to him.

“Why didn’t you tell me about your father? Or your sister?”

His head snapped around to face hers at this. He knew that she would eventually admonish him for lying about his father, but Afla? He couldn’t remember telling her about her death, though he would have told her eventually. Probably.

“How did you…” His voice had lost all of its substance by now, and he saw the lioness turn her face away and sigh, almost reproachfully. When their eyes met again, he could see the sympathy glowing in those brownish-red orbs, despite the immense pain that also shone through.

“Your friend was surprisingly forward about it,” Sarabi said as Khalfani scowled. Trust Subira to not keep her mouth shut. “I’m not angry, Khalfani,” she continued. She spoke the truth; her expression was in the same neutral state of calm that was characteristic of her personality, though her despair was still plain to see behind those stoic eyes, “I just want to know why you lied to us.”

The air around the pair fell silent as Khalfani sunk into his guilt. Why did I lie to them?

“I…I just thought…” Khalfani let a sigh of his own escape, and finally answered. “I don’t really know…I just thought that you looked like you had enough problems of your own to deal with, and...I’m sorry.”

Silence once again descended, as Sarabi considered the young king’s excuse. After all he’s been through, and he still put our problems before his own? Not that the lioness thought that she had had a particularly pleasant time recently; she wasn’t sure just how long it would be before her grief finally chipped its way through her façade, like a bird pecking through bark for grubs, but she was still surprised by Khalfani’s behaviour. However, it was plainly clear that he was not coping as well as she was; the king had returned to his previous hunch as though he hadn’t realised, and she could see the minute wobbling of his jaw.

“Khalfani…” She succeeded in once again raising him from his stupor, and she stole a quick glance at the group of lionesses and cubs, who were still chatting quite spiritedly, before turning her attention back to the lion, who by now was looking at her questioningly. “If you want to have some time to yourself, given what’s happened, then I don’t mind keeping watch over them while they decide.”

Her offer fought for space alongside the other thoughts milling throughout his mind. Surely as king, it was his duty to stay here and make sure that things were going smoothly? That way, if anything went wrong he would be there to resolve the matter quickly. But then again, he had already delegated responsibility for sorting who will foster which cub, and with that out of the way, was he really needed for anything at the moment? The lionesses seemed to be doing just fine by themselves, and if he could trust anyone in attendance to maintain authority over this situation, it was Sarabi. He would’ve been able to trust his father and Mufasa too, but…

Again, he had to take a moment to stop his thoughts from winding their way back to the deceased kings. Thankfully, his procrastination meant that the matter was resolved this time by the unnoticed entrance of a third party.

“Sweetheart?” came a voice to his left. A soft, gentle voice that by itself managed to blow away some of the choking fog within him. He turned to face Sabra, who continued with perhaps a hint of trepidation nestling in her words. “Your mum wanted to have a word with you,” she finished, a trace of her familiar, comforting smile curling her lips.

Khalfani looked back at Sarabi, who gave him a small nod of approval. He quietly thanked her, and with a great flood of relief rushing through him, set off to walk beside Sabra, returning her comforting affection as they walked back up Haven’s slope.

-------

Tojo was scared. Scared and confused. And tired. And hungry. What was going on? Everything had happened so quickly that it made the cub’s head spin. First King Mufasa and Simba died, and Scar let the hyenas into their home. The ochre cub shuddered at the thought of those monsters leering at him from the other side of the cave, as he silently wept for his dead friend and his king.

Then, just after those…things finally went to sleep, his mum pulled him from the throes of dreamland, nuzzling him ferociously and with more tears falling. When he asked her what was wrong, she didn’t say, but it must have been terrifying judging by the look on her face. All she told him was that they were leaving for another pride. Spurred on by her fear, he kept quiet and obeyed what she and Queen Sarabi said. They weren’t the only ones there; Kula, Chumvi, Mheetu and their mums had come too, but no Nala? Or Tama? Or Habiba or Nuru? Why weren’t they coming too?

Then, just after they escaped Pride Rock, staying quiet so that Scar wasn’t woken, he noticed something. Four birds crowded around him, tweeting as they occasionally stumbled on the loose ground to keep up. Four. Before the sun had set, he’d had six. Fear gripped him, and he desperately wanted to go back and find his birdie-babies, but no one would let him. He tried to run back alone, but his mum caught him. She tearfully apologised over and over, and explained that if they went back, they would all be in danger, and she couldn’t lose him. Tojo hadn’t thought he had tears left at that point, but they still fell; they fell for his lost birdies; they fell for what the hyenas would be doing to them; they fell for the home that he couldn’t return to.

But at least he still had four of them; he still had Khari, Siku, Radhi and Bamba. Plus he couldn’t stay angry with his mother for long. She told him a little later that if he went back, Scar would kill him. Something about a ‘richua’ or something like that, but that didn’t matter. Scar would kill him, that was what mattered. He asked his mum why, and she said it was just because he was a boy. She also told him that the place they were heading for would be somewhere that he would be safe. He could see the tears falling as she did this, and he nuzzled her to try and comfort her, and himself, though he was careful to keep the birdies on his back from falling off as they slept; he wasn’t taking any chances with them now.

Then, as the sun came up, first Malka and then this big, strange lion came up to meet their group; they must have been from the pride they were going to. His orange friend went away quickly, but the big lion took them back to this hill and called his pride to see if they could stay. He looked weirdly relieved when he told them they could.

And then three lionesses from this new pride came over, and he felt scared again; he didn’t know what they were going to do as they huddled together. One of them said that the King, Khalfani, had lost his dad and his sister in the last few days, and he really felt for the King. No wonder he looked so sad when they first met him.

But then the huddle broke up, and one of the other lionesses came with him and his mum, away from the others. Now he was sitting between them, though closer to his mother, with his birdies nestled between his tummy and forelegs, occasionally looking up at one of the adults as they talked. The fear that he had earlier was dissipating, alongside the danger from the night before, and he felt safe again. For some reason, he could hear his mum getting more and more upset, and she kept nuzzling him, which he returned; he hated seeing anyone crying, but with his mum…it was almost enough to set him off again.

“Is there a type of prey that he really likes, Basha?” asked the other lioness kindly, in her now-familiar breathy voice. He didn’t exactly know why, but Tojo knew that he liked this lioness; much more than the gossipy brown one from the huddle anyway. She really seemed to care for him, but didn’t talk to him like he was a little kid; just like Mum, but older, and beige. But he couldn’t understand why she was asking so many questions. Surely she would only need to know what his favorite prey was if his mum was going away? He drew breath sharply as the realisation hit him, and interrupted the lioness’ conversation hurriedly.

“Mum, are you staying here with me?” he asked, peering up hopefully at her teary visage. When she didn’t answer quickly, his expression fell, and he knew what was coming. He felt his face tighten, almost physically squeezing the tears out as she answered.

“No, sweetie,” she mumbled, seemingly ashamed at having to abandon her only son, “I would if I could, but I have to go ho…back to the Pridelands. They need me there…”

“But I need you here, Mum!” he pleaded, running his face up and down her fuzzy foreleg. “Please…” he whimpered, looking at her face through his overfilled eyes.

He felt a shuddering sigh shake through her entire brown-furred body, before she answered. “I can’t, Tojo. Sweetie, I don’t want to leave you, but I don’t have any choice.” He felt his bottom lip tremble, and almost released his pent-up sorrow, before she carried on. “But you know what?”

He stopped, two tears streaking their way down his face, but no more joined them. “What?” he croaked.

“You’ll be safe here, and so will your birdies. Hirizi will take good care of you, and I won’t be gone forever, sweetie. I’ll come and visit you when I can.” Through the tears and the obvious pain, there was a definite glimmer of hope in her blue eyes, and a similar expression broke through her sorrow with it. He felt some of the pain in his heart just vanish when she said that, though much of it remained. However, there was a marked difference in his tone.

“You will?”

“Of course I will, honey. Did you think I was going to leave you on your own?” Tojo gave a wet chuckle, and nuzzled her brown foreleg again, but now his movements were calmer. She gave his forehead a gentle lick.

“Feel better, Tojo?” she asked softly.

“A little,” he mumbled in reply. He was telling the truth; though the thought of his mum leaving him here all by himself did frighten, it was to keep him safe. And at least it wouldn’t be too bad here; Hirizi seemed very nice, and it wasn’t as if he wouldn’t see his mum again. Still, it was hard to imagine her not being there any more…

“Okay, sweetie. Now, I’ve just got to tell Sarabi that we’ve sorted you out, so stay with Hirizi while I’m gone, all right?” Again, he gave her a wordless nod, and she trotted off, with a quick glance to make sure that he was still safe. He felt a strange paw caressing his back comfortingly, as his light blue eyes followed her progress.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay, Tojo?” Hirizi asked, apparently concerned at his abrupt calmness. He turned to face her, careful to avoid the little blue ones under him, with a small smile on his face.

“Yeah,” he whispered, and his face fell away as the memories started to come back, though he was not allowed to dwell for long.

“I must say, Tojo,” Hirizi said, a smirk starting to appear on her own face, “you’re being very mature about this.”

She gestured to her right with the same paw that had been around his back, and Tojo turned the same way and even through his own sorrow still felt a smile creep onto his face. There was Chumvi—cocky, arrogant, but still his best friend Chumvi, who hadn’t shed a single tear on the way here—bawling his eyes out, his face clamped to his mother’s foreleg, screaming for her not to leave him.

“Please don’t go Mu-hu-hu-um!” the dark-brown cub wailed between raking sobs, as his sister Kula simply rested quietly against their mother’s foreleg. Admittedly, Tojo felt bad for nearly laughing at his friend’s misery, but this was payback for all the times the dark-brown cub had laughed at him when he fell out of trees, or into the waterhole, or off that zebra’s back one time. But the memories of home brought back his anguish at what he would be missing, and those he had already lost. His smile was lost as his face crunched up, and fell limply to stare at the ground, when he felt a muzzle gently shove his shoulder to bring him out of his thoughts.

“I know this must be hard for you, Tojo,” Hirizi whispered comfortingly. “But I promise you that I’ll look after you properly. And who knows…maybe you’ll come to like it here in time.” She finished with a sincere, warm smile, one that the cub felt he could trust. But before he could answer, he heard a set of paws bounding towards them.

“All sorted out,” his mother called to them as she approached, her hurried steps ending just before she ran into them. Seeing Tojo’s downcast expression, a visible pang of regret passed across her face. Later, Tojo would take that as meaning that she felt she could have been there for her son, or at least more than she had been. But just a moment later, an idea struck her. She brought her sepia head down to his level, and whispered into his ear.

“Come on, let’s have a bit of fun together before I have to go.”

Tojo’s head jerked around to face hers, and as he saw the twinkle in his mother’s eyes, the same eyes as his, he grinned. The ochre cub raised a forepaw, and gently pressed it to her nose.

“Tag,” he declared playfully, and made good his escape, before the much larger lioness set off in pursuit. The gloom that had previously surrounded the pair falling away as they ran; neither were going to let their heartache ruin what could be the last time they spent together for a while. Knowing it was not her place to interrupt this tender moment between mother and son, Hirizi padded away to see how well her sister Duni was faring with her own foster-cub, a satisfied smile breaking out as she did.

-------

As Khalfani trekked back up the side of Haven, Sabra’s comforting presence alongside him was helping to spread a feeling of calm within him. He was basking in the pride of helping those four cubs, the gentle sun was warm on his pelt, and the savannah was coming to life again after the horrors of the previous night, as fleeting sounds of its various inhabitants wafted their way up the slope. However, while he was more at ease, the dark clouds still loomed on his mind’s horizon, brooding and waiting for weakness to strike him again. But for now, they were being held at bay; barely.

“I’m really sorry about leaving you alone earlier,” said Sabra, her kind tones pulling him out of his reverie to face her slightly downcast expression, “but my mum wouldn’t let me sneak away without talking to her after last night. But at least we can be together now,” she finished, her lips closing in their familiar smile, and rubbed her brightening face along his neck.

“Yeah,” he answered, and returned her favour by licking the side of her muzzle, a similar happy expression dawning on his own face. Normally, when they were alone like this, they shared pleasant conversation, but now was not the time. As they continued their leisurely ascent, they simply revelled in the peace of each other’s company, his smile standing firm against brewing despair.

Before long, they approached where Masaada was waiting, and the lioness stopped in her tracks as the Queen loomed into view, jolting Khalfani out of the loving haze that had begun to cloud his mind in a different way. Unfortunately, he had taken a few more steps because of this dulled thought, and turned back to her.

“What’s wrong?” she gave an awkward, slanting smile before she answered.

“She wanted to see you alone.” Khalfani knew at once what their conversation was going to be, and the mental barriers began to crumble. Sabra noticed the change on his visage, and at once rushed to him, placing her muzzle under his chin.

“Remember what I said last night, honey,” she whispered softly, “I love you”. Khalfani pulled back from the leonine kiss, and twisted his head to face her.

“I love you too, Sabra,” he replied, equally quietly. He leant in to nuzzle her once more. “Thanks…thanks for everything,” his voice cracked as he finally released his appreciation.

With measured reluctance, he broke their embrace, and slowly walked away from her, eyes staring firmly at the ground in anticipation of what his mother would say; the inner clamminess slowly returning after its welcome absence. Sabra, with equal difficulty and a resigned sigh, trotted off back down the slope, leaving the Royal Family in peace.

Eventually, Khalfani made it over to his mother, as she rested on her haunches under the acacia that stood resolute on the flat hillside outside Amana’s Cave; the only tree that grew on the entirety of Haven. Because of this, and the proximity to the Shaman, the tree was said to be something of a beacon for the Kings of the Past, and there was an odd feeling in the air that the young lion couldn’t quite fathom, as he sat down next to his mother.

“A lot of things have happened by this tree,” she whispered, reminiscing and staring out at the kingdom. “It’s where I met your father…it’s where we became mates…it’s where I found out I was going to be a mother…twice…” She gave a wet sniff, and tugged her gaze away from the bright world and to her son.

“That was a wonderful thing you did for those poor dears, Khalfani,” she praised, leaning gently against him, “I’m so proud of you.”

“Do you think they would be, too?” The words had passed his lips before he could hold them back, feeling something else now beginning to somehow press against his face. Any resolve he had to keep his feelings at bay was rapidly diminishing.

“Oh, sweetheart, they always were,” Masaada gently affirmed, rubbing her head soothingly against Khalfani’s shoulder, but it was too late for comforting. His head hung limp, and his expression contracted as the tears finally fought their way out. He felt his mother place a forepaw around his back, and before he knew it he almost collapsed against her chest, enveloping himself in her comforting scent; the various fluids streaming from his face dampening her fur extensively; his large body shuddering occasionally with each trembling gasp for air.

“Shh…” he heard his mother whisper from above, deftly running her paw along his spine in a calming effort, and for a while the pair sat quietly, the only noise being the lion’s muffled sobbing. The elderly lioness almost cradled her son, as if he was a cub again and wailing after falling on a particularly sharp rock, a few of her own tears trickling past her muzzle and into the burgundy depths of his mane as she kept up her calming embrace.

Eventually, Khalfani’s sobbing ebbed away as the heavy emotions subsided, and slowly morphed into a steady stream of tears as his thoughts became clearer, though he almost wished they hadn’t. They were dead. All dead. His sweet, funny little sister and his loving, nurturing father, and his two cousins. Admittedly, he wasn’t as close to Simba or Mufasa as perhaps he ought to have been, so their passage, as much as it made him feel unclean to realise it, weighed less on his mind than those of his close family. But it still hurt, unbearably so.

They were still dead.

“Everything’s going to be fine, Khalfani,” a whisper came from above, and he felt his mother’s paw pull tighter on his back, as well as another nuzzle on the top of his head. He tried to answer; he tried to articulate the turmoil in his mind, but he couldn’t. His throat merely garbled.

“I…I…” he pressed slightly harder against his mother’s chest, “I miss them…” The stroking resumed on his back, and somehow he felt his mind ease, though not by much.

“I miss them too, Khalfani,” she whispered in his ear, “but remember what your father said.” Khalfani peered his head back up for this, his neck aching slightly from the awkward, yet hugely comforting embrace.

“When?” He probably could remember what his father’s wisdom was, but he wasn’t particularly inclined to delve into his memories again; he didn’t want them to overwhelm him.

“When he told you about the story of those who pass on,” she continued, a warm smile starting to grace her lips. “He and Afla are probably up there right now, watching over us. They’ll never truly be gone, Khalfani, and neither will Mufasa and Simba.”

Her words sunk in deep, beginning to spread a calm feeling through him, helped by the cosy warmth emanating from her steadily beating chest. But before long, the raw, gaping void in his heart was unearthed once again, and his expression turned back to misery.

“I know it hurts, honey. I know how hard it is,” she continued in the same voice; the same slightly shaky, but ultimately determined and forcedly serene tone. “I was the same when my mother died.”

Khalfani found himself yanked from his thoughts. “You were?” he asked, with quiet incredulity. He had heard of his grandmother’s sudden death long ago, but that was not the major surprise. Save for the last two days, he had never known his mother to be overly emotional; she was able to keep the majority of her feelings under control, much like she was doing now.

“Yes,” she replied, a slightly ashamed look flashed in those cerulean orbs before she next spoke. “I-I just lost hope. I didn’t think there was anything left to carry on for… But your father showed me otherwise; I still had him, and all of my friends in the pride to help me, and eventually the pain slowly went away, because I could think less about how my mother died, and more about the happy times I spent with her.”

She flashed him another smile. “And a few moons later, I had you,” she said, gently licking the bridge of his nose. “I know what you’re going through, son, and I know just how painful it is, but trust me…it does get better,” she finished with another nuzzle.

“Thanks, Mum,” Khalfani murmured back, and the two felines fell silent for a short time, as Khalfani gently rested his head back against his mother’s chest, letting his eyes close and began to mull over what his mother had told him. She was right, but that was almost her duty being his mother and the Queen. He still had her, and Sabra, and the rest of the pride. They would all help each other through this. Just thinking about that made him feel less depressed. It was as if each sob had shaken out a small piece of the heavy burden in his chest, and although the pain was still there, it seemed subdued. It wasn’t simply being pushed to the side, as he had done earlier; it was genuinely under his control, as his beloved had helped to do. It was still there, though, and even if it wasn’t overrunning his thoughts anymore, it still made its presence known. But it was only that now: a presence. Nothing more, nothing less.

After a while had passed, he felt a warm, oddly rough presence awaken him from his stupor, as it passed nimbly over his eyelids, drawing away the lingering moisture. Khalfani blinked several times, as his vision readjusted to the clear, sunny skies.

“Feeling better?” his mother gently enquired, her foreleg slackening around his back.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, some semblance of a smile dawning. Yes, the pain was still there, but it wasn’t in control anymore; he was, and he reciprocated her earlier nuzzle. “Thanks, Mum. You always know what to say.”

With that, he eased himself out of her comforting embrace and sat still for a moment, contemplating what he should do next. He reasoned that he probably should at least check on how well the lionesses were doing in sorting out the cubs, as it was still his ultimate responsibility as king to preside over the new pride members, even if he had delegated the duty for now to someone arguably more capable. However, the thought of what his new position entailed also reminded him of something else that had to be done. Something that could very well send him spiralling right back down into the midst of his pain again…

“One more thing before you go, sweetheart,” his mother said, giving him another nuzzle. The rubs this time seemed to press harder against his shoulder, and he turned to face her with a quizzical expression, which she picked up on instantly.

“You had me worried earlier,” she explained. “When Sabra and I woke up, and you were gone…I didn’t want to think what could have happened…”

The realisation and guilt hit him like a stampeding herd, and his face immediately took on a downcast expression.

“Oh, Mum, I-I’m sorry. I…” he managed to splutter out, before she interrupted.

“Don’t be,” she said with a warm smile. “You had a good reason. But…” Khalfani noticed a bit of worry start to seep into her normally calm tone, “Just for the next few days, let me know where you’re going, okay?”

“Of course, Mum,” he promised, returning her beaming expression before his previous train of thought reasserted itself. Once it did, his face fell. “You do know what’s got to happen this evening, don’t you?” he added.

He saw his mother’s smile fade slightly, and for a brief moment her heartache displayed prominently in her cerulean gaze. And then she blinked, and it was succinctly vanquished again with a knowing, understanding look. Khalfani felt similar feelings well up again within himself, but this time he was able to hold them back, though not before a little of the sentiment crept into his thoughts.

“I’ll see you later then, Mum,” he said, and with that started off back down the hillside at a trot. He was already regretting bringing the topic up. “Zuberi!” he called out a moment later, trepidation and awful memories starting to creep back into his thoughts as he set about his task of utmost importance, in which the king’s major-domo—his major-domo—would play a vital role.



For some reason, I can't edit this chapter into the opening post. For now, I'll post it here, but as soon as possible I will move it to where it belongs.

Anyway, enjoy as ever :)
If you have some time to kill, why not check out my stories:

Lost and Found


Royal Lovers
Arbarano
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The Professor

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Joined: August 14th, 2010, 2:56 pm
Nickname(s): Ben
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Arbarano » December 24th, 2010, 1:11 pm

I think I must have hit a character limit in the opening posts, so from now on I'll just post each chapter on its own.

Anyway, it has been a while since I updated, but I'm not giving up on it!



Chapter Four

Spoiler: show
The chilling clouds were beginning to return to Khalfani's chest as he and the rest of the pride, plus a few guests, waited patiently and sombrely by a small grove of acacias, not too far from Haven. These clouds contrasted those in the heavens, stained a deep orange by the descending evening sun. Khalfani gave a light cough, and blinking back the moisture that had unknowingly begun to accumulate in his vision, scanned the throng that had assembled for the memorial of his father and sister.

It was tradition that the deceased monarch, as with all other lions and lionesses, should be left in the open savannah, in order for their body to return to the grass. However, with royalty, rather than leaving the unfortunate soul where they had fallen, as happened with the others, or moving them to the plains should they expire on Haven, a special area had been set aside where their regal bodies may be left in peace. This particular cluster of trees had been selected because it was distinctive, and could be seen from Haven, though it was not close enough to be a constant distraction, which was why one of the many hollows on the same hillock was not used instead. Naturally, the tradition extended to the memorials always being held at sunset.

Khalfani observed with gratitude that so many had come to honour his relatives, but also with a slight sense—though he felt ashamed of it—of disappointment. He was immensely thankful for Zuberi's contribution, as the diminutive hornbill had traversed the entire kingdom and beyond that day, informing the leaders of the various herds of what had happened as well as braving the voyage to the Pridelands to inform Scar. He had reported back with the condolences of all the leaders, but that had not translated into attendance. Only three non-lions were present.

Zuberi was always going to be there, and the bird was staring at the noble corpse of Umeme with a blend of awe and grief. Amana's role was essential, as she was currently daubing red paste onto the still faces, whispering rapidly and barely audibly. The sole leader who had travelled to the Memorial was the elephant matriarch, whose name had escaped him until his mother surreptitiously informed him as Naima limped into view. However, he was very appreciative of the Pridelands lionesses, who had remained to attend as it allowed them that much more time with their cubs. His mother and Sabra were sitting on either side of him, providing unyielding support.

Her work finished, the cheetah fell silent, and with her head dipped low in reverence, crept backwards from the bodies. The aggrieved mutterings of the mourners also ended, and the brief quiet allowed the atmosphere to swell. It also allowed for a little reflection on Khalfani's part, as he again felt Sabra gently caress his shoulder. Every single one of his ancestors was part of the very earth beneath his paws, and now it was time for his father and Afla to join them. He moved his eyes upwards and glanced at the brown bodies he had been deliberately avoiding, seeing the shaman's handiwork for the first time. The bridges of their noses were now stained an unsettlingly vibrant red, as was a line under each eye. This was the same for any pride member who had passed away, but there was further pasting for royals. One band of red above his father's hidden amber eyes, but for his sister it was merely one dot above each closed lid. Khalfani wrenched his vision away from their disturbingly serene faces, as two droplets broke free of his eyes.

Instead, he looked to his right, and saw his mother stepping forward, swaying slightly with each footfall. The grief was returning despite her calm expression, but another factor was behind her gait. While Afla had been gently moved to the Memorial Grounds by a member of the pride, Masaada had personally brought her husband's massive body. When she was almost over them, and the scent of decay and death wafted through her nostrils, she stopped, and with a quick but deep breath began the Memorial.

"We are here this evening," she began, "to honour the passing of two beloved members of our pride." Her clear, but calm tones collapsed into a shaky whisper as she added, "And of my family…" A ragged breath sent a shudder through her aged body as she tried to collect herself. After a moment's pause, she continued, though her words weighed heavily on her lips now.

"My little Afla…you were with us for far too little time…I will never see you become a lioness…" She momentarily dipped her head. "But you will always be in my heart, my darling." She bent down to lick her daughter's cheek, before turning to the other, much larger form.

"Umeme, my love…we spent six wonderful years together, and there's not a moment that I would regret…" By now, she was speaking more to the slowly blooming stars above than to the crowd, but still lowered her head once more, and nuzzled her mate's face, whispering. Seemingly unable to say any more—though Khalfani couldn't imagine what else remained for her to say—and with her head still bowed as if she could not hold it up, Masaada slowly walked back to her son's side. Now it was his turn.

Braving the internal onslaught, and with a final comforting nuzzle from his mother, he stepped forward, padding with trepidation towards the missing half of his family. He had no idea what words would come to him, or how he would react to once again having the musk of death invade him. As he neared the bodies, the stench made him want to retch, but he stood his ground; he had to. Blinking two further tears out of his blurred eyes, he parted his lips.

"Afla", he said. "Like Mum said, you were here for far too short a time. And I regret not spending enough of it with you." As much as Khalfani would have liked to have been the perfect brother and have spent every waking moment with his little sister, there was always something that kept them apart, usually his friends or his father's teachings. "You were always ready for a laugh…and it was never dull when you were around…"

Words failed him, and he sniffed loudly and wetly. "It'll be hard not having you with us, Afla," he whispered. "I'll miss you so much…" And with that, he licked the tip of his sister's nose, careful to avoid looking at her grave injury. He felt the bile burn the inside of his throat at the terrible chill his tongue received, and had to suppress a shudder as he turned to the larger lion.

"Dad…" His mind was blank; what could he say that would adequately sum up what his thoughts had previously been screaming? "Thanks," he finally said simply. "Thanks for being the perfect father to me and Afla, thanks for being the perfect King that the pride needed…but most of all, thanks for being the perfect example for everyone to follow." His gaze flickered upwards to the distant pinpricks of light hanging above his head. He could've sworn two of them twinkled softly at him. "You taught me everything you knew, and everything I know now…I just hope I don't disappoint…"

Unconsciously, his head had drooped once again, but staring at his father's peaceful expression and the silence that followed was enough to shock it back upright. He looked around at the mourners one more time, some of whom were already gazing back through thickly moistened eyes, and gave them a brief nod. This was also tradition; after the family members had given their tributes, the rest of the pride was given a gesture, allowing them to give their own freely. Having done this, he quickly trotted back to his original spot, and sat down.

"Well done, honey," Sabra gently whispered in his ear as he returned. He accepted her fortifying nuzzle with mumbled gratitude before she regretfully peeled off to express her own feelings. Khalfani found it more and more difficult to watch the rest of the gathering surround the two bodies, as his vision blurred with renewed tears.

Goodbye Dad…Goodbye Afla…I hope you're at peace up there.

"It's the worst thing you'll have to do as king, Khalfani," mumbled a familiar voice, causing his ear to twitch. His eyes squeezing shut for a brief moment, Khalfani leant against his mother, his head bowing even further at her touch. "He was exactly the same when Elimu passed on…" she continued a moment later.

Sabra soon returned to his other side, and for a while the trio sat in silence, aside from the occasional sniff or ragged breath, watching as the congregation milled around in front of them. Immersed in the warmth of his loved ones, the King felt his strength beginning to build again, and yet he could not tear his gaze away from the crowd and what they hid. As the still air carried snippets of conversation from the mourners, Khalfani couldn't help but think that they shouldn't be here; that this entire Memorial should not be happening, something he mentioned in a low tone to Sabra. Yet it was, and he had to accept that. He took comfort in the fact that, as the dark lioness pointed out equally quietly and with a gentle nuzzle, everything he heard was a loving tribute or fond recollection.

As the ceremony wore on, and night descended around them, some of those closer to him and his mother came over. Asani gave him a head-bump, and the pair chatted about the time they tried to get Afla to eat a strange insect. Not the best memory, but Khalfani appreciated the sentiment, for the brown lion hadn't sounded so subdued since his own mother died. Kweli, one of the older lions, told him that it had been a privilege to serve his father and guard the lands for him, while his daughter Arusi, Afla's closest friend, was comforted by Masaada. The adolescent had her face resting against the Queen's foreleg for some time, repeating endlessly how much she would miss Afla and wanted her here again, before being solemnly taken away by her father. Even Amana gave him a reassuring smile from where she had sat since the Memorial began.

Eventually, the ceremony drew to a close as the aggrieved slowly returned to their original places, before their new King cleared his throat to grab their attention.

"Thank you all for being here," Khalfani said, his raised voice barely hiding the trembles it held. "You all know what will happen in the morning, so…you may leave." He fell silent as the realisation of what he would be doing as the sun crested the horizon again took hold in mid-thought. In the meantime, the majority of the mourners began to leave, with many giving him a respectful nod before turning away. However, aside from his mother and Sabra, one other group, which had almost escaped his memory in the ceremony, remained.

"That was beautiful, Khalfani," said Sarabi with a gentle smile, having already spoken to his mother once most of the Upper Eastlanders had left. The elder lioness had since moved away to the bodies of her husband and daughter, but Sabra remained with him. "I'm so sorry for your loss," she continued, her expression falling. "They were both wonderful lions."

"Thank you…" he replied, unsure of what else could be said. Sarabi took a look back at the rest of the group. Behind her, the Pridelanders and their cubs were sharing tearful goodbyes and heartfelt nuzzles, while their new foster mothers made last-moment checks and attempted to console their new charges. One of the brown twins, despite apparently being the eldest, appeared to be proving harder to separate from his mother than the tiny pale cub, who was simply staring up at his mother from Duni's forelegs, two shimmering trails working through his fuzzy cheeks.

"Well," she began, blinking back the film of moisture that had accumulated in her own eyes, before turning back to face the King, "I think it's time for us to leave."

"Oh…" Khalfani had not been expecting that, though it was becoming more apparent that Sarabi was understandably exhausted. Her eyes were drooping and her dignified stance had started to slouch; there were other obvious reasons for these impairments, of course, but he tried not to think about those. Not now.

But he couldn't help it. There was just so much to pity about her situation.

"Goodbye, Sarabi," said Sabra, taking advantage of her love's hesitation, and walking up to cross necks with the tan queen. "Stay strong," she whispered, and as Sabra pulled away, the elder lioness' eyes closed briefly.

"It was good to see you again, Sabra," she replied. "I just wish it could have been under better circumstances…" The two lioness shared the same slightly awkward, but still reassuring, smile before Sarabi turned to face the King. Her weary gaze was still filled with heartache, which he had yet to see her truly alleviate, and it would surely be a matter of time before her resolve crumbled, but there was something else welling up beside it. She stepped forward, and gently rested her head against Khalfani's shoulder.

"I can't thank you enough for your help, Khalfani," she said quietly. "I don't know what we would have done without you." She pulled away and took a deep breath. "Your father would be so proud."

Despite himself, Khalfani felt a certain sense of satisfaction begin to swell within him. "It's no trouble. I know you would have done the same…" He saw Sarabi's eyes crinkle as her smile widened. "Take care, Sarabi. The others will need you more than they need their King."

"I already knew that," she said with the slightest hint of a chuckle before her sobriety returned. "Good luck, Khalfani. I'll see you again soon."

"Bye," he and Sabra called out, as the tan lioness walked away to her pride sisters, who by that point had separated into three small groups spread a little apart. With a final glance at each other, they started walking to Haven.

"Sarafina? Karima? Basha?"

Tojo felt a sudden chill around his tummy as his mother pulled her comforting face away from his prone body at the sound of Queen Sarabi's voice. The ochre cub followed her gaze, and saw the great lioness had little rivulets running down her cheeks.

"It's time for us to go," she stated with sad finality. Tojo's mother nodded at the command, and turned back to face him as he stood up. All the fun and laughter from earlier has long since disappeared, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for either of them to make this easy.

"I'll miss you so much, sweetie," she whispered, nuzzling his face as tears began to fall. She pulled back, and looked directly into his eyes with her own identical pair that shimmered with anguish. "I love you."

"I love you too, Mum," he replied, trotting over to rub his wet, teary head against her brown foreleg, which shook slightly with each stroke. He felt her run her chin softly along his back, a few droplets trickling into his fur.

"Thank you, Hirizi," she said to the beige lioness, who was looking at the mother and son with great sympathy. "Please keep him safe for me."

"I will, Basha. Don't worry about that," she reassured her kindly, and Tojo moved away to allow the pair to head-bump, before his mother dipped her head to face him again.

"I'll see you again as soon as I can, my little Tojo," she whispered, her breath shaking as she ran a forepaw along his side. She stared at him for a few moments, as if she didn't have the will to tear herself away from her cub, before finally squeezing her eyes shut and walking away, whimpering.

Tojo's mouth hung open, as he watched his mother stiffly make her way back to what used to be his home. Now that she was actually leaving, rather than simply talking about it, all of his fears and dread rushed back at once. He wanted nothing more than to run back to her; to feel her nuzzle him one more time; just to cuddle up next to her and fall asleep as he used to. But he couldn't, not if he wanted to live. This was for the best, just as anything she had ever done for him was. Still, as his mother was enveloped by the dark night, he gave a choking sob. Several more followed, and he sank into the cool grasses, each gasp making him quiver. But, before he could lose himself in his own misery, a soothing paw ran deftly along his back.

"Tojo?" came a now-familiar, breathy voice. He perked his head up to face Hirizi—My new foster-mum, he thought—and saw the kind, trustworthy smile she wore. After a long breath, she dropped her face to his level. "Remember that promise I made earlier?"

"Yes?" he replied wetly, pushing his forepaws against the ground.

"Well, I meant every word of it," she said sincerely as she briefly nuzzled his shoulder. "You've been so brave today, Tojo, but I need you to hang on for a little longer, just until we get back to Haven. Do you think you can do that?"

"I…" he began unsurely. How could he hold back the pain that was about to rip his heart in two? But then his eyes fell on four little blue forms that had previously been standing under Hirizi. His birdie-babies were staring at him, their beady black eyes filled with wonder at why their dad was crying in the dirt, instead of looking after them. It plucked from his roiling mind the reason why he was here in the first place: to protect him. The savannah was a dangerous place at night, and the sooner he was back in Haven, the safer he would be. "I think so," he finished, his voice stronger this time.

"There's a good boy," Hirizi said gently, and after a brief wait while Tojo allowed his birds to climb onto his back, the two of them set off. The three foster-mothers had agreed to walk back to Haven together—though the gossipy young one had taken a little convincing—so the other two lionesses were waiting in a small huddle a little way from the grove of acacias. An odd clamminess ran through Tojo, as he realised that he had never been to a Memorial before; neither his mother nor Queen Sarabi had mentioned there being one for King Mufasa. Before he could begin to wallow in the memories of home again, a surprisingly deep voice cut through the still air.

"I take it that that's everyone, then?" came the voice of his new King, who had apparently decided to join them, along with the brown lioness whom Tojo had seen with him nearly all the time.

"Yes, Your Majesty."

"Good." The King lowered his cerulean gaze to Tojo and gave him a slightly trembling smile. "So you must be Tojo, then?" he asked gently. Despite the pain in his heart, the cub's mind found the energy to feel slightly nervous of King Khalfani. It was an odd mix of the lion's sheer size and the fact that he simply didn't know anything about him. Then again, he had been nice enough to let him and his friends stay in his pride, so he couldn't be that bad.

"Yes, sir," Tojo squeaked, staring upwards at his new ruler. He was a little surprised when the King's face rose further, given where they had just come from, and he turned away to face the others.

"Right, let's get going then, shall we?" and with the King's orders the group began to move back to Haven. Tojo watched as the adults began to position themselves around himself, Kula, and Chumvi, while Mheetu was carried in the jaws of his foster-mother, a golden-pelted lioness who was walking beside Hirizi. Mheetu was barely more than an infant, and Tojo could still hear his cries.

"So how're you holding up?" a high-pitched, but low voice asked to his right, and Tojo's head snapped to face it. He was met by a dark-brown face, laced with smooth fur, and he felt his own rise slightly. At least I'm not alone here.

"I'm nervous, Kula, and…I miss her already…" his voice trailed off as his mother's face swam in his mind.

"Yeah, me too… We're doing better than Chumvi, though." Tojo looked past Kula to her twin, and felt his eyes widen sorely. He was simply staring at the slowly approaching hill with large, moist eyes, his lips sealed but his jaw quivering. "You wouldn't think he'd miss Mum all that much with the way he talks," she finished, a tear sliding from her red eyes, which prompted his own to fill again.

"Yeah, but…you don't know how much you'll miss something until it's gone."

"True," she replied with a nod, which shook off more drops that had lingered in her chin. "If Mum was here, I'd take back what I said to her when she brought that carcass home late the other day." Only Kula could bring food into something like this, but he knew what she meant. Tojo had never really argued with his mother, but he still regretted a few things. Running off to play with Simba when she had told him to stay with the baby cubs and not stopping his attempts to climb that big acacia near Pride Rock were some of the things that came to mind. Tojo steered his thoughts away from home, but made a mental note to say sorry next time he saw her. At least he would see her again…

Tojo glanced at Hirizi, and, seeing that she was occupied, but stealing a look at him every so often, dropped his voice to a whisper. "At least our foster-mums are nice."

"Well…yours is. Subira's okay, but she sounds a bit strict," she mumbled. They fell silent for a short time, the air seeming to grow thicker as the sensation of emptiness brewed. However, before it could truly take hold, Tojo was snapped out of his thoughts.

"Are those your birds, Tojo?" The new voice was soft and calm. He whipped his head around, and found it belonged to that brown lioness King Khalfani was walking alongside.

"Um…" he stuttered, before his brain began working again. "Yes, they are, Miss…"

"It's Sabra, Tojo," she said, her muzzle creased in a fortifying smile. "So why are they with you?"

"Well…it's kind of a long story, but…" And he launched into the tale. Tojo was sure he had already told the story of finding his birdies to nearly every animal he had met, but he still felt compelled to tell Sabra; she did seem genuinely curious. However, while it filled him with the usual sense of pride to retell it, this time it also served to remind him of home, and the two birds he had left behind. A few tears tickled their way through his fur as the gruesome images of the hyenas finding them appeared hazily in his mind's eye, yet he managed to keep talking to the lioness. By the time he finished the story they had climbed most of the way up the hillside, aiming for a large cave.

As they entered the cavern, the King quietly bade them goodnight and thanked the lionesses for their help, before he and Sabra retreated further into the cave.

"Follow me, Tojo," said a familiar, breathy voice as the pair disappeared into the darkness. Instantly, his gaze jumped to Hirizi, and he followed his foster-mother further into the cave. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw that they were heading for a space near the corner, where the beige lioness laid down with her back to the wall. Realising this was where he would be spending the night, Tojo gently let his drowsy birds off his back before protectively curling himself around them, his head facing Hirizi's.

"Just try to get some sleep, Tojo," she said gently, that same smile on her lips, "You'll feel better in the morning."

I hope so, he replied inside. This all felt so much like home. His birdies were snuggled against him, one of them twisting against his fur for a moment. He was warm, and he was safe. But it wasn't home. He wasn't resting against Mum's soft stomach; he was curled up slightly apart from Hirizi on the hard earth, though he knew she was watching over him. He wasn't where he would call home, Pride Rock; he was in Haven, somewhere he barely knew anything about. The fear began to return to his chest, and a few tears slipped out of his closed eyes.

But before the sobs brewing in his chest could be released, a feeling of sluggishness overtook him. The exhaustion of being awake for two days, fleeing a great distance to a new kingdom, being at the Memorial for their King and Princess, losing his King, two of his birdies, one of his best friends—the 'Bird-Mum'—, and being separated from his mum had finally caught up with him. His head sank to the ground.

The last thing he heard before his dreams began was, for once, not Bamba's chirping snores. Instead, he heard a cub whisper, "So you're my new baby-brother?" not too far away, before sleep finally claimed him.

-------

You go on ahead, Khalfani. I'll be back later.

That was what Masaada had told her son, and she had watched as he, Sabra, and the lionesses who had taken in the Pridelanders' cubs slowly made their way back to Haven, her serene expression slowly capitulating into a pained grimace, her tears beginning to flow. She couldn't let him see her like this, not after what she had said to him earlier.

She had been so much calmer earlier that day. Some rest had settled her inner turmoil and allowed her to see the greater issue: Khalfani's transition to kingship. After all, she and Umeme were both on the wrong side of a decade in age; Umeme's father may have reached fifteen years of age, but Ahadi had been struck down at just nine. Over the preceding few moons, she had painfully witnessed her mate begin to suffer the effects of his age. His thick mane had begun to fade and streaks of grey had sprouted amongst the dark brown, his luscious pelt had started to lose its lustre, and his great strength was diminishing. Yet, despite this, he had retained the inherent mirth she so loved, and accepted the inevitability of death, bringing her to do the same. She knew he would never be truly gone, and neither would Afla, despite how awful and sudden her departure was. Masaada hadn't even had the chance to tell Afla that she loved her, or say goodbye to her baby before the flame of life was snuffed from her chest.

No, it was the Memorial, and insisting that she carry her beloved to the acacia grove herself, in the vain hope of feeling his heart stir once again. It was sitting there, trying to provide some sort of comfort to her distraught son, while watching Amana work on their precious, deadly still faces. It was standing over them, and instead of the comforting, muted scent of her husband and the slightly spicy odour of her daughter, having her nostrils violated by a wave of decay. It was looking down at them, seeing their gorgeous brown pelts tarnished with innumerable cuts and slashes, and thinking of the pain they must have suffered in their final moments. It was even a bit of Sarabi's tale. At least Masaada had been gifted with Afla for two years, but Simba was born barely six months ago. So much loss and suffering had happened in the last two days, and the full force of it had overwhelmed her.

However, she had retained the presence of mind to remember what Feruzi, wife and queen of Elimu, had told her. As Queen, it was her duty to maintain as much composure and dignity as possible in all situations, and to lead the pride through the loss of their leader by example. It was what the elderly lioness had done when the great king had drawn his final breath, and the responsibility had passed to her.

But now, she was alone, lying down in between the two bodies with her watery gaze shifting to cover each of them in turn. On one side was the cherished daughter she had carried for months, feeling the new life grow and swell within her. The one she had curled herself around when she was merely a ball of brown fuzz, keeping her treasure warm and safe. The one she had seen grow up into a playful little cub, always laughing and joking around with her brother. The one she had comforted through the darker moments in her life, like when as a cub she confided that her crush was already smitten with another. The one she loved and adored, the one she had taught everything she knew, and the one she had held a Memorial for, when the roles should always have been reversed.

On the other was the love of her life, her light in the dark, and the father of her darlings. The lion with whom she had spent many moonlit nights simply wandering the savannah; their bodies pressed against each other and eyes barely open; their souls reaching out from their chests and fusing into one. The lion who had comforted her with countless licks and nuzzles during her worst moments, and she had done the same for in his. The lion with whom she had shared the pure, simple joy of holding their children. The lion who filled her heart with a warm, basking sensation at the very thought of him. Her first, true and only love.

Masaada rested her head on her forepaws, and finally released her tears. Yes, she accepted that they had passed on; how could she not, when surrounded by the proof? But that didn't mean that she wanted it to be true. She hoped—no, longed—to feel a warm, comforting head rub against her shoulder, and to be pulled from this nightmare, waking up to Umeme's noble face smiling down at her; for him to lick her cheek, and gently remind her that Afla was waiting for her next hunting lesson; to hear the mock-impatience of her daughter wafting in from beyond the passage to the Sleeping Cave.

But no. They remained still, and the savannah silent around her, despite all the myriad of creatures that normally awoke around this time, leaving her alone with the memories of her husband and daughter. Her weary eyes closed for just a moment.

Memories…

As her eyelids met, Masaada's world turned bright once again, as the sun was shining strongly overhead. Too strongly. Enough to make her crave the cooling taste of water in her throat. As the waterhole came into view, she recognised it as the one closest to Haven. A little way up the slopes of the hillock, she saw two familiar lions, one brown and one yellow, both with dark manes. She knew this day; it was the first time she met Umeme. Of course, in such a small pride everyone knew everyone else, so that was not strictly true; however, it was the first time their conversation extended beyond simple greetings.

The Princes looked as though they were having a discussion on their ledge, but Masaada, not being particularly interested in their antics, dropped her muzzle to the slightly murky water. But before the refreshing liquid could grace her tongue, a yelp cut across the balmy air, and she her gaze was drawn upwards. It fell upon a tumbling brown form as it rushed down the slope, before coming to rest at the bottom. Instinctively, for Umeme's movements seemed sluggish after his fall, she ran over to help.

For having plummeted such a distance, the Prince was remarkably jovial—or maybe it was cockiness—as he insisted that he was fine. But, when the large lion put weight onto his left foreleg, he gave a great hiss, and his grin was smothered by a grimace before he fell back to the ground. Her turn to smirk, she shook her head and went to fetch the shaman, Zuwena. She heard Umeme call out in thanks as she left, passing his dumbfounded brother as she ascended the hill to find the aged cheetah.

Having made sure that her daughter Amana didn't follow her back to the lion, for the grinning cub had been suggesting that she be allowed to cut off the injured paw, the geriatric mystic went with her to the Prince. As the cheetah worked, Masaada kept close by, concerned about Umeme's wellbeing after such a heavy landing, and sharing some pleasant conversation with the older lion to pass the time. Eventually, after much poking and twisting of the afflicted limb, Zuwena passed her judgement. It emerged that he was quite lucky, as the leg had only been bent in an awkward direction rather than any lasting damage, and that the pain should subside by the end of the day.

After the elderly shaman left, Umeme thanked Masaada for her help, and the pair shared a smile before she turned to leave. While she walked, she couldn't help but feel some sort of connection to the Prince. She couldn't for the life of her figure out what it was, but it made her want to get to know him better. She found her thoughts being pulled away from the chat she had been having with Tuhfa, and back to him. She had to admit though, he did seem like a very nice lion; good-humoured, kind, though he did have a slight hint of arrogance befitting of royalty. It was why she had agreed to meet him again the next day, though at a slightly less dangerous place: the same waterhole she had been trying to drink from before coming to his rescue.

Her eyelids parted company, and she stood up as yet more memories swam through her mind, warm and comforting against the lingering sorrow. She saw Alfa, mere days old, wrapped in her soft forelegs. Her pink nose shuffled against the yellow fur, and the brown cub slowly calmed as she recognised her mother. Then she was nuzzling Umeme's shoulder ferociously, as a horde of lions and lionesses roared and whooped in approval. Next she was lying in the entrance of the Sleeping Cave, her forepaws dangling over the slight edge. Below in the grasslands were her husband and daughter, stretching out on their backs as the great lion retold the story of Those Who Pass On to the little lioness.

Masaada found the corners of her mouth receding further as more and more recollections occurred to her, and a little glimmer of hope now shone deep within her chest. Provided she kept these snippets of their lives close to her heart, they would never be gone. Never. They may have been wrested from their bodies, but their spirits would live on, both in her memories and in the heavens, and no one could take those away from her.

Slowly, with her gaze still tilted towards them and truly smiling for the first time in days, she began to walk back to Haven. As of now, her focus was to be on Khalfani, and making sure that she was strong enough to give him the wisdom and support that he would need. Regardless of whether his father was dead, that was still her duty, and desire, as a mother.

After days of feeling as though her paws were rooted to the ground, her movements were freer, almost natural again. But a new pain grew within them; a dull, nagging little ache, that she hadn't noticed before.

I'll be with you again soon, my darlings…but not while Khalfani still needs me…

-------

The Sleeping Cave was gloomy the next morning, and for the first time in days this did not reflect the King's mood. Not entirely, at least, for though the presence was diminished once again, it still lingered in his already unsettled chest. He sat in the corner, his cerulean eyes darting though the dark cavern, desperately seeking out someone. Anyone. He craved for Sabra or his mother to be by his side, and help to calm his frayed nerves. The chocolate lioness had been by his side all night, as his fitful dreams kept him from sleeping soundly, patiently soothing his fears every time.

But that couldn't happen now, and he knew it. He was to be left alone with his anxieties; that was simply how the coronation was done.

A little earlier, Amana had ventured down from her den to wake the pride for the ceremony; being so elderly, she often had trouble sleeping for long periods anyway. At her brusque yet fluty tones, most of the lions and lionesses had traipsed out of the cave, and by now had gathered expectantly at the foot of Haven as per the tradition. Sabra and Masaada remained for a little while longer, the younger of the two giving him whispered assurances and nuzzles while the elderly lioness went over the ceremonial routine again as she gazed fondly at him, before they too were ushered out by the cheetah. Now, they were just waiting for the sun to arrive.

The tension built and the air in the stuffy cave became chokingly thick. He wanted nothing more than to just walk out onto the ledge and begin the whole ceremony, just to get it over with and begin the reign he had been destined for since birth. But to stomp over decades of tradition like that would be to go against everything his father taught him, and to insult the pride who had spoken so kindly at the Memorial last night. So he sat resolutely, with his back firmly against the wall and his tail limp. Every other member of the pride had done their bit; now, it was his turn. Besides, every Great King of the Past must have experienced exactly this blend of mourning, excitement and pure anxiety during their torturous wait.

Great Kings?

At once, Khalfani heard the deep, calming voice of his father again.

"You see the stars, Khalfani? All of our ancestors are up there, watching over us. They're in the stars, son, and the Great Kings of the Past are the ones that shine brightest."

"But what does that all mean, Dad?" his much younger self asked.

"I'm getting there." There was a throaty chuckle before the story continued. "It means that those who have passed away will never be gone, my son. Those Great Kings will always be there to help you if you need their guidance. And one day, not for a long time, though…I will be there too."


"Dad…" he whispered, "I know you're up there…I just hope what I said yesterday was enough." He truly felt as though he could, and should, have said more. Tears welled up for the umpteenth time, but he held them back. He wouldn't cry now; his father wouldn't want him to be like this during his coronation. After several deep breaths and the clearing of his misty eyes, he continued.

"I'm really nervous about becoming King, Dad. I'm sorry…I know I shouldn't be. You taught me everything I could ever need to know, but…I can't help it. You truly were a Great King, Dad…I just don't know if I can live up to your example…"

At that moment, Khalfani felt an odd presence surround him. A warm breeze picked up in the still cave, and ruffled his fur slightly, rather like the old lion himself had done. As the calm returned, a similar sensation spread through him. He had been trained and taught all his life for this responsibility, and he was the son of Umeme, one of the greatest kings there had ever been. The father who would always be proud of him. He began to smile, though inside he was chastising himself for letting his fears overtake him so comprehensively; he had already been King for a day, after all. Yes, a little of the nerves remained, that was natural, but provided he remembered the wisdom and counsel his parents had both imparted, though his father's would be in memory, and followed his heart, then he could never stray far from the true path.

"Thanks, Dad," he said, staring at the earthen roof, "I won't let you down." His gaze lingered for a few moments, and soon he noticed a soft, warm orange glow encroaching on the murky brown. The time had come. Slowly, but deliberately, he trotted out of the cave.

After momentary blindness in the new light, he saw Masaada and Sabra sitting at the sides of the entrance, flanking Amana who stood in the centre of the projection, and giving him assuring looks. He smiled back and gave each of them a small nod, and he found his paws steering him towards the yellowish lioness.

"Your Majesty?" the shaman's high voice drew him back to procedure, and was briefly stunned by the cheetah's words. Though Amana was in no way disrespectful and showed, or at least attempted, politeness to all of her patrons, her natural bluntness had found its way to her forms of address. The only two animals that she showed deference to were the King and Queen.

Blinking, though for once there was no moisture, he continued to her side, inclining his head to her as he stopped. With his eyes lowered, he could see the crowd that had gathered below. He spotted the pride, gazing up at him on tenterhooks, but also a few members of other species. They were mostly the leaders of their particular herd, signified by their faded pelts and large size, but some of the smaller groups had arrived in their entirety. He felt honoured that so many had come to see his coronation.

"Are you ready, Khalfani?"

His head jerked upward to face the cheetah. "As I'll ever be," he replied determinedly. Her greying mouth curled in a wry smile.

"Good," and he turned to look out over the lands below, ready to take the oath that all kings had to pledge by.

"Are you Prince Khalfani of the Upper Eastlands, son of King Umeme and Queen Masaada?"

The first question was mere formality, though he had not been entirely prepared for how loud Amana would be asking it. But, then again, it had to be done so that all those in attendance could hear it. It didn't make her near-squeak sound any less odd though.

"I am," he answered in an equally strong voice, though one that seemed more naturally so.

"Do you, Prince Khalfani, understand the responsibilities and duties of being King?"

"I understand." Thanks to you, Dad, he mentally added, looking to the heavens. He could feel the nerves brewing once again, though this time they were in excitement rather than fear, and well under the control expected of a king.

"Do you, Khalfani, solemnly swear to uphold the Code of Laws, as laid down by your ancestors, and to rule justly and fairly?"

Quickly, he recited the Laws in his head, and his doubt was satisfied as instantly as it came.

"I swear," he felt his jaw tremble slightly as he called out. This was it.

"Then I, Amana, as shaman of the Upper Eastlands, ordained to preside over these affairs, do proclaim you: King Khalfani of the Upper Eastlands, its realms, and its inhabitants." She dropped her voice considerably and leant in to his ear. "You know what to do, Sire," she whispered.

He pun his head back as she walked away, and spotted the two lionesses behind him, now standing in the cave entrance. He saw a proud tear streak down his mother's face, and both still wore the same expressions as before. His own smile breaking out from the ceremonial neutrality, he turned back to face the savannah¾his kingdom. He had lived here his entire life, but never before had the lands seemed more beautiful. And now, it was his duty to maintain them, and rule fairly over the subjects gathered below and throughout the lands.

Unable to prolong it any further, he squared his stance, drew his head back to his shoulder, and released a mighty roar; one that rang out across the whole kingdom.

And beyond.

Over the horizon from Haven wound a wide, lazy river, that marked out the western boundary of the kingdom, and on the opposite bank of which sat a red-maned lion. He was young, no more than an adolescent, but his light brown pelt seemed to bulge with hardy sinews, and there was a vacant look in his red eyes as he stared into the cloudy waters. Suddenly, his ears perked, as the echoing roar of the new king reached them. He stood up to his modest height, and has face hardened.

One day, Khalfani. One day-

"Kafil!"

The shrill voice pulled him from his reverie, and with it demolished the steely look as he turned to face its direction. It belonged to a light-tan lioness, her fur beginning to go even lighter in parts due to her age, with identical eyes to his. From her place on a small rise, she stared back in a reprimanding manner, as he began to walk towards her. But once she saw his apologetic expression, the hardness crumbled and she dashed to cross necks with him, almost flinging herself into his crimson mane.

"I'm so sorry, Mum," he mumbled, as her gentle warmth washed over his shoulder.

"Oh…don't be, Kafil," she whispered in reply, rubbing her whitening head softly up and down, "I miss him too…just promise you won't do this to me again."

"I won't, Mum." For a short while they stood there, comfortably resting against each other, with the bubbling river being the only source of noise, before the lioness pulled away from her son.

"Come on, lets go home," she said with something of a smile, and he followed her away from the river. But, just as they crested the small rise she had seen him from, he turned his head back to face the other lands.

One day.


Thanks for staying with the story, and I hope you enjoyed that...decidedly non-Christmassy reading. ;)
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Azdgari » December 24th, 2010, 4:59 pm

Yesssss! I'm delighted you've stuck with this! It's one of the only stories on MLK that truly has me hooked. I'll be sure to review tonight once I have time to read it without rushing. Great to see you back around! ^^
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Azdgari » December 29th, 2010, 10:43 am

Sorry it took me so long to read this, Abarano, but goodness am I glad I finally did.

Simply put, I would say this is the best fanfic being written on MLK. For a story taking place largely in a new setting for a reader and with well more than half the cast as OCs, it's an incredibly compelling read. This is because (and I've been talking to YFWE about this recently) you write these OCs so brilliantly, bring them to life in such a realistic manner that it's only natural for a reader to become attached to them. By the time I read through your third chapter, I didn't read your fourth out of courtesy as I do many of the fictions I read. I read it because I was wholly invested in Khalfani. I was anxious to see the Pridelanders leave their cubs. In short, I was completely hooked on your story.

Of course, it's not only your characters and your impeccably natural development of them that seal the deal for this fic. Your writing in and of itself is nearly flawless and at times almost poetic, more than anything your superb and profoundly moving scenes of grief shared by Khalfani and Masaada and later at the ceremony. I'm rarely, rarely one to be emotional during a story much less a fanfiction, but I was affected by the memorial: the theme of a brother watching his father and sister die and a especially a mother outliving her daughter is tough stuff and you depicted it a poignant and touching manner.

"Masaada hadn't even had the chance to tell Afla that she loved her, or say goodbye to her baby before the flame of life was snuffed from her chest." That is a glorious metaphor, man.

As far as critical evaluation goes, one thing stuck out for me and it's something theundersigned touched on in his review on FF.net: you can be repetitious, especially when it comes to language. The word aggrieved came up twice in a very short amount of time which struck me as odd given the plethora of words available to mean the same thing. In addition, the word Cerulean was used many times over to describe different characters' eyes. Also, while I tend to relish the amount of detail you put into this, at times the lengthy descriptions can drag on, slowing the story down. Sometimes in writing, less is more. Just something to keep in mind.

I'm rather raving about this story, but it's the best continuing fic I've had the privilege to read on here in a long time. I can't wait for your next update! ^^
Last edited by Azdgari on January 2nd, 2011, 9:55 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Lost and Found

Postby Arbarano » December 29th, 2010, 1:03 pm

Thanks for another glowing review, Az, and it's great to know that I've got someone else hooked on this story ;)

I am taking the concrit on board, though, and rest assured that a lot of the repetition will be phased out.

As for when I can get the next chapter up...it's difficult to say. A combination of exams and a holiday has kind of put me out of writing until the end of January, but I'll try and be quicker with my updates after that :)
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