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Full story: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/8667222/1/Heart-of-the-Shadowlands


This story takes a mature look at a beloved family film - and one of my favorite films of all time. A young Nala fights to escape an arranged marriage while the Pridelands fall apart under Scar's rule. Secrets will be revealed, friends will die, and Nala must find the courage to be queen. I'll improve this summary at some point. You can view the whole story at the link above. The first chapter will be included in my next post. Please leave a review, either here or on the website above.

Gaia Chapter Links
PART I: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
1. Quid Pro Quo
2. Be Prepared
3. Sensational News
4. Listen to Teacher
5.
6.
7.
PART II: TEETH AND AMBITIONS
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
PART III: UNTITLED


Characters & Locations
Canon
Films: Almost every character from the movies will be included at some point in this story. Kovu, Kiara, Vitani, and Nuka will only be present as cubs, if they make an appearance at all. Sarafina will play a major role and will be quite different from the way TLK writers typically portray her. Meheetu isn't in this story, although Roho fulfills a similar role to what Meheetu's would have been if he were included in the movie. Excluding Timon and Pumbaa (not sure if they'll show up yet) no characters from TLK 1 1/2 will be involved because that movie never happened. ಠ_ಠ
Books & Comics: Chumvi, Kula and Uru will show up in minor roles. Ni will also get a mention. Ahadi and Mohatu are canon but will not show up in person because they are dead. I decided not to include any characters from the comics because I've found it more enjoyable to create my own OCs to populate Nala's world.

Original Characters
There are lots of them. Knowing them all before you read the story isn't important, they're mostly here as a reference in case you get confused.
X Roho: Roho is Simba's cousin and one of Nala's best friends. He's largely ignored by everyone due to being the youngest of his litter and a runt, but he's much braver than anyone gives him credit for. His mother is Nyonda and his sisters are Ruka, Bombu, and Mea.
X Ruka: Roho's oldest sister and another one of Nala's friends. Chumvi is her best friend. Before Kivuli was born everyone was sure Sarabi would name her the next heir.
Wezi: A cousin of Nala's and her good friend. Her mother is Eupe, one of Sarafina's cousins. Like Nala she is also descended from the Marshlands Pride, although she and Nala were born in the Pridelands.
X Prince Kivuli: Scar's son. *insert dramatic music here*
X Ripuka: Kivuli's hyena bodyguard.
King Baako & Queen Thema: Baako is Nala's uncle and King of the Marshlands pride. Thema is Scar and Mufasa's younger sister, Queen of the Marshlands pride.
King Zimwi: The deceased King of the Marshlands Pride, Sarafina's father and Nala's grandfather. Friend to Ahadi.
Mama Kishenzi: Matriarch of the hyena clan. In case her name doesn't tip you off, she's also Shenzi's mother.
Shetani: Zira's mother and current leader of the Outsiders.

Locations
Pride Rock: Herp a derp.
- The Throne of Pride Rock, AKA "The Throne": The cliff that juts out from Pride Rock where all the important ceremonies are held. During the Royal Presentation of a new prince members of the royal bloodline are permitted to sit here while the rest of the pride watches from below.
- The Communal Den: All the pride members sleep together in here. The king and queen have a special place in the center.
- The Royal Den: A smaller, private den just for the king and queen. Under normal circumstances the king and queen sleep with the rest of the pride.
- The Royal Chamber: A cave beneath The Throne. The king holds court here along with his queen and advisers.

The Western Ridge: A hilly area on the western side of Pride Rock covered in acacia trees. The lionesses love to lounge here during the hottest hours of the day.
Rock Tunnels: Not just a cave in Kanto. These tunnels lie on the eastern side of Pride Rock. They were vacant for as long as anyone can remember, until the hyenas moved in.
Shadow Pass: The "dark shadowy place" beyond the northern boarder, entry way to the Elephant Graveyard.
Turtle Rock: A small rock formation near the watering hole. In part two, Zira and the Outsiders can be found there.
The Marshlands Pride: A neighboring pride about two days journey from Pride Rock. They entered into an alliance with the Pridelands after Ahadi saved their pride from certain doom. Sarafina was born here.
The Acacia Pride: Another neighboring pride. They live near an acacia tree forest, hence the name.


Other Stories
The Lion King
- Such Tears (Complete)

Legacy of Kain
- Wasteland Kingdom (Complete)
- Legacy of Kain: Epilogue (WIP)
- Things Fall Apart (Complete)
- The Pit (Complete)
- Duality (Complete)
- The Last of a Bloodline (Complete, Old)

Poke'mon
- Two Rockets Walk into a Bar (Complete, Old)

Monster Rancher
- The Old Dragon (Complete, Old)

Yet out of the ashes of this tragedy,
we shall rise to greet the dawning of a new era
in which lion and hyena come together
in a great and glorious future!

- King Scar, The Lion King


PART I
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA


Chapter 1: Quid Pro Quo

Months ago the plentiful rains Nala knew for most of her life abruptly died off, leaving the winding river nearly bone dry save a few muddy puddles, the largest overcrowded by hippos and thirsty animals. Even the great Watering Hole, once plentiful, shrunk to the size of a small pool. For the first time ever Nala truly understood what thirst meant. Although hearing the adults moan with relief about the relatively mild dry season this year made her want to fall over dead, idle chat about the weather was still preferable to the usual topic of the day: politics.

Not that politics bored her. She relished the opportunity to be a lizard on the rock and listen to the adults discuss the important goings-on about Pride Rock. Frustratingly, most of the time she struggled to understand the topic, which the adults refused to explain to her, or found herself rudely dismissed when she did manage to say something she thought profound. Nala had a love-hate relationship with politics at the age when all young lions believe they ought to be treated like adults. Once she said it wasn't fair that the adults looked down on her opinions so much when they trusted her to do other adult things, like explore outside Pride Rock and take hunting lessons. Even though she was one of the best young huntresses in her class, an honor that carried the responsibility of being a good example to her classmates, few adults took her seriously. For this reason she found politics exhausting even at the best of times. And so on this morning Nala was glad to put politics out of her mind. Today she was going to do a good deed.

After her mother left with the huntresses to search for game, Nala and Roho (who had spent the night with them on account of his sister's snoring) headed out to the dry riverbed to search for smooth stones. When they were cubs, Nana Uru showed them some old smooth stones and told a legend about a mighty hippo who summoned rain and ended a hundred year dry spell by breaking the stones with his foot and releasing the water. By holding one of the stones under her nose and breathing deeply, Nala smelled the water of hundreds of wet seasons past locked inside the rock as if by ancient magic. In the Pride Lands, smooth stones were a traditional gift given to friends near the end of the dry season believed to bring joy and good luck.

"I got one!" Roho rolled the smooth stone out of the mud puddle with his paw. Once the stone was on dry earth he carefully picked it up in his mouth as though it might crack and brought it over to the pile they had spent the last two hours collecting by migrating from puddle to puddle and bringing the stones with them one at a time.

The stone Roho discovered cleaned up pale silver, reminding her of a full moon. Roho placed it in the pile of clean stones and sat down beside Nala to admire their treasure trove. Her nose and paws were caked with muddy earth, her back baked by the sun, and her chest swollen to the fullest with accomplishment. Each stone was unique: one dark and lumpy, one cream colored and tear drop shaped, one dark brown, one grey and streaked with white like a zebra, and of course Roho's silver moonstone. They had done well.

"Do you think that's enough?" Roho asked. She looked at him and smiled. No way would Sarabi stay cooped up in her den with all the happiness she would get from these smooth stones, not to mention all the good luck they would bring. He licked his paw for a couple seconds then suddenly cast worried look at Pride Rock. "Um… how are we going to get them all back? There's so many of them and Pride Rock is so far away, we can't take them all in one trip."

Of course Roho would say that. Carrying the rocks one by one from puddle to puddle had not been a problem since the puddles were relatively close together. Now that they needed to carry them all the way back to Pride Rock the trip would be more difficult but not as impossible as Roho made it sound. "That's easy. I'll stay here while you go back to Pride Rock and get your sisters to help with the rest. That way we each only have to carry one rock."

His ears drooped. "By myself?"

"You're faster than I am. It won't take long."

"But what if a hyena catches me?"

"Just tell him you're running an errand for your mother. You're…" Nala thought. "Okay, say she told you to go check if there's any water left in the river and now you're going back to let her know you found some. He'll have to let you go."

Roho scrunched up his face as if committing the story to memory caused him discomfort. Or perhaps he was simply over thinking it again. Not a thought could pass through Roho's head without being interrogated and scrutinized. Some cubs, especially his sister Ruka, made fun of him for being 'stupid.' Nala vehemently disagreed. Quick thinking was a hazard to him. Instead he thought slowly, meticulously, and though he often panicked over details that she would have dismissed as unimportant his insights often got her out of trouble. "A-are you sure you'll be alright by yourself? What if I can't find my sisters?"

"You don't know where they are?"

"Well, Ruka and Chumvi are usually playing together and they never tell me where they're going. Bombu could be anywhere."

She hadn't thought of that. The sun was rising fast and there was little shade at this part of the river and the only water was mostly mud. Her plan depended on Roho coming back as quickly as possible so they could all make it home before midday. Nala glanced at the sky and frowned. "Well there's only five of them. I can fit two or three in my mouth."

"That sounds dangerous. I mean, you could trip and break all your teeth. Or choke!"

"Do I look clumsy to you?"

"Accidents happen," Roho protested meekly. Even Nala had to admit to herself that carrying three stones in her mouth would be tricky, let alone two, but she kept this thought to herself. She did not want Roho to think she was a backtracker. Roho added, "Wouldn't it be safer to find a big leaf and pile all the stones onto it?"

That was a sort of clever idea. Unfortunately, near the end of the dry season, finding a big leaf just wasn't an option. She shook her head.

"I guess you're right…" he agreed after thinking it over more thoroughly. Suddenly his face lit up. "What about monkeys?"

Nala lifted her eyebrows. What about monkeys?

"They have those…" Roho sat on his haunches and held up his forepaws, spreading and flexing his toes. "Hands. Yeah, they have hands."

She arched her ears and scanned the riverbanks with her eyes. Sparse trees with thin branches grew in the distance. She could only imagine how long it would take wandering from tree to tree, searching in vain for one that might have monkeys in it. Besides, monkeys were notorious thieves. She shook her head again. "Nana always said never trust a monkey unless you have a banana."

"What's the banana for?"

"For bribing them."

"Oh, right… right…" Roho studied the pile hopelessly. Nala did the same. They had to think of a way to get these smooth stones back to Pride Rock and give them to Sarabi.

We could just take two, Nala thought begrudgingly. After all the effort they put into gathering five smooth stones she hated to leave most of their bounty behind. While she hesitated her ears suddenly picked up the sound of pebbles chattering into the dry riverbed. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Roho whip his head around and his rust colored fur stand on end. By the time she spun around the hyena was already too close to run.

"Ah-ha, I knew I smelled cubs down here!" the hyena loudly congratulated himself. "You cubs know you're not supposed to be this far from Pride Rock without supervision. Where's your escort!?"

Roho cowered behind her. Although they were practically the same age, Roho was the runt of his litter and had not even the tuft of a mane. Nala bared her teeth and shouted back in her most grown-up voice, "We're not cubs, we're almost a year old! We don't need an escort!"

"The law says no cub under a year of age is allowed more than a hundred yards from Pride Rock without a guard. You two are breaking the law."

"That's not true! We told Nyonda and Nana Uru where we were going and they gave us permission."

"Yeah, right. I know a couple of trouble makers when I see them." The hyena practically drooled with anticipation. Nala hated him and all the other guards who always pounced on the chance to get someone in trouble for breaking the law, even if they were following the law or it didn't make sense. She saw the hyena's beady eyes turn on Roho. "Hey you, baboon-butt! What are you hiding!?"

Nala glanced over her shoulder and felt her jaw drop, for there was Roho crouched over the pile of smooth stones like an ostrich protecting her nest and trembling all over. His golden eyes looked as big and round as two suns. As the hyena advanced on them Nala tried desperately to block his path. "H-he's not hiding anything! He just gets like that when he's scared."

"Move it!" the hyena snapped, shouldering her aside. Clumsily regaining her balance, Nala watched helplessly as the hyena towered over her friend. Roho stared dumbly into the hyena's dripping maw and when he growled the red lion seemed to stop breathing. Everyone knew the hyenas were not as trustworthy as Scar claimed. Only a few weeks after he took the throne Laini, one of the huntresses, had her ear nearly ripped off during a fight with a hyena. Naturally the hyena claimed self-defense, but Laini said otherwise. Nala and her friends had also been chased by a group of hyenas. No matter how many times the hyenas objected and tried to change their story Nala firmly believed that if not for her mother and the bravery of a rogue called Ni she would have been killed that day. There was no underestimating hyenas. Besides, there was no point in hiding the stones anymore.

Only when she called his name did Roho finally snap out of it. Slowly rising from the stones, he backed away and fled to her side while the hyena snapped his jaws and cackled mirthfully until the light reflecting off the stones distracted him. He titled his head to the side and raised his ears as if he expected the stones to speak. "Woah… pretty…" He turned them over with his paws and looked at the cubs intently. "Where did you get these?"

"From the river," Nala said coldly. "It took us all morning to dig them up. They're presents for Queen Sarabi."

The hyena snorted. "What would a queen want with a bunch of rocks?"

Nala said nothing. Roho peeked around her shoulder, staying low to the ground. There was no reason for him to make himself so small when the hyena was staring at her so intensely. The hyena started to smirk. "Unless there's something special about them…"

Her ears twitched. She couldn't think of a way out of this. "They're just rocks."

"Oh, I see… Then you won't mind if I take them."

"N-no, you can't!" Roho squeaked. Nala glared at him.

"Why not? They're just a bunch of worthless river rocks."

"They're special rocks. Ow!" Nala stepped on his paw. She interjected, "He doesn't know what he's talking about. Heatstroke."

"No!" Roho yanked out his paw and stood out of reach. He gazed up at the hyena, submissive and pleading, "If you sniff them they give you good luck and happiness. That's why we're getting them for Sarabi. She hasn't come out of her den in a long, long time and we need these rocks to make her happy again. Please! She's your queen, too!"

The hyena looked unimpressed with Roho's theatrics. Suddenly he started to chuckle smugly. "Tell you what. Since this has been so entertaining I'll let you kids go – if you give me all your pretty rocks."

Nala bristled. "That's stealing!"

"Nope, it's a fair trade. Or maybe if you don't like it I'll just take the stones and report you anyway. I'm sure Captain Shenzi would love to get her paws on a couple of plump little snacks."

That name sent a shiver from Nala's neck all the way to the tip of her tail. On the night of Scar's ascension she had watched in shock and horror as he named the three hyenas that almost killed her as a cub Captains of the Guard, now known to her as Shenzi, Banzai and Ed. She tried to hide her fear with a scowl but her eyes betrayed her. She looked away.

"Come on Roho, let's go." There was nothing they could do.

The two cubs backed away from the hyena. As Nala turned to climb up the river bank she glanced over her shoulder just in time to see the hyena lunge at them. Letting out a terrified shriek she scrambled up the bank alongside Roho and ran for the shadow of Pride Rock, her cheeks burning with fury and humiliation. Behind them the hyena's laughter faded away, swallowed up by the hot wind. They ran for several minutes before they felt safe to stop and catch their breath under a nearly leafless acacia tree. The moment she had air in her lungs again she turned on Roho. "This is all your fault! What were you thinking!?"

"I'm sorry!" Roho cried. His voice cracked from the heat and sounded like a hiccup.

"If you hadn't been so… so…" She stamped her forepaw on the ground. There was a word her mother used for huntresses who foolishly gave away their position. "So conspicuous none of this would have happened!"

"I'm sorry! I just – I was trying – I thought I could be brave for you, like Simba!"

Simba…

She froze, her anger suddenly half an act. Simba would have been brave. When Shenzi tried to grab her in the Elephant Graveyard Simba rushed back to save her. Even when all hope seemed lost Simba still tried to protect her and if Mufasa had not come to their rescue he would have gone down fighting to save her. Her chest seemed to squeeze in on her. If Simba was here now…

No, no more sadness. She was getting too old for childish emotions. When she looked back at Roho and saw his tear stained cheeks all anger vanished from her heart. "Stop it, don't cry. Crying won't do us any good."

Roho sniffed and rubbed his face with his paw, smearing mud across his nose. "Sorry. I'm just a big baby."

"No you're not. You were very brave. You just…" She frowned and shook her head. There was no point in telling Roho to think more before he acted. Usually he did. "Forget about it. We can find more smooth stones on our way back to Pride Rock."

Roho nodded. He seemed eager to put this behind them. Having just run over a mile, however, they were too tired to continue. Instead they lied down back to back in the snake-like shadow of the acacia tree and watched for hyenas while they gathered their strength and cleaned their paws.

Some distance away, rippling in the heat, Nala spotted the figure of an old lioness. She was standing all alone, obviously not a part of her mother's hunting party, though she was so far away that even by squinting Nala could not make out any details of her face. She thought it might be Nana Huzuni, the lioness who disappeared from Pride Rock after Scar took the throne and who had been wandering the Pridelands by herself, refusing contact with any of the pride members. Nala's mother, Sarafina, seemed to know what caused Huzuni to retreat from Pride Rock, but when Nala asked she only said that it was a sad story that happened before Nala was born. There were rumors that Huzuni wanted to leave the Pridelands altogether. The only obstacle holding her back was the wall of hyenas guarding the boarder.

Huzuni wasn't the only lioness being held back. Laini, the lioness with the torn ear, also threatened to leave, though she never secluded herself the way Huzuni did. Shaba and Zito, two huntresses on her mother's team, had also talked about leaving. One day while Nala was resting up in a tree she awoke to find the two lionesses plotting to escape the Pridelands once and for all unwittingly beneath her branches. Nothing ever came of it and she told no one. She hoped they changed their minds, but Huzuni had obviously not. Before Nala could mention her sighting to Roho the lone lioness had disappeared into the mirage.
Chapter 2: Be Prepared

After their rest Nala and Roho followed the river back to Pride Rock. They arrived at midday, just as the heat was growing unbearable. There seemed to be two suns; one spouting fire from above, the other gushing lava beneath their paws. I hope the huntresses are alright, Nala thought to herself. Her mother always said that heatstroke was the third greatest danger on a hunt. The second was careless thinking and the first was being a show-off.

They carried smooth stones in their mouths. These smooth stones they found on the banks of the river where they had been baking in the sun for months. Too hot to carry, they kicked them half-way back to Pride Rock. Unlike the other smooth stones they dug up, which were colorful and came in many different shapes, these stones were speckled, flat and grey. Without digging they were the best the two cubs could find. Unfortunately after their last encounter with a hyena neither of them could work up the nerve to go down into the river and dig.

As Nala and Roho rounded the pillars of Pride Rock they passed lumps of hyenas taking refuge in the shadows. They guarded their shade with jealous growls and high pitched yips. The hyenas always fought the lionesses for the best places to wait out the noon heat. Nala and Roho hurried past.

For the past two weeks Sarabi had been absent from her usual place in the communal den, as had Scar. Lately she even stopped going on her morning walks through Pride Rock. The pride missed her calming presence. Even Nala's headstrong mother seemed lighter after her morning talks with Sarabi, whereas without her she stomped around like a rhinoceros. Sarafina and Sarabi had been best friends for as long as Nala could remember and even though they were not related Sarabi always felt like an aunt to her. She even called her auntie from time to time. Once when they were cubs Roho got upset over Nala calling the queen Auntie because he thought she was trying to steal his aunt away from him, so she never called her auntie in front of him again. Her mother said it probably had something to do with Roho having so many sisters to compete with. Being an only cub, Nala never understood the rivalry between siblings.

The den were Sarabi had secluded herself was located under a pile of boulders behind Pride Rock. Captain Banzai paced outside, grumbling to himself. When he spotted the two of them he spun around with his tail high up in the air and snapped, "Hey, you two! Identify yourselves!"

Nala dropped her stone on the ground. "You know who we are," she snapped, moistening her lips. While Captain Shenzi was sent out on more exciting tasks such as patrolling the boarders of the Pridelands and maintaining order, Captain Banzai was always stuck sulking around Pride Rock where there was nothing for him to do except act meaner and more important than he was. Nala crossed paths with him often enough to know his bark was worse than his bite.

"Don't get smart with me, missy! You know the drill. I can't let you pass until you identify yourselves and state your business."

"Nala and Roho. We're here to visit the Queen."

"A likely story."

"You've seen us with her a million times. My mom is her best friend, Roho is her nephew."

Banzai shook his head. "Mm-mm, not good enough! How do I know you're not just spies who look like Roho and Nala? Nope, you two will have to give me the password."

Nala groaned loudly, "Ugh, come on! I don't want to say it again. We're not spies."

"I don't hear any password," Captain Banzai sang.

Nala sighed heavily. She glanced at Roho, who looked just as exasperated as she felt. They each took a deep breath and said in unison: "Captain Banzai is the toughest, smartest, and best looking animal in the Pridelands."

"Annnnnd?"

"We love him."

Captain Banzai glowed like a dung beetle rolling around the biggest turd on the savannah. "He he he, aw gee, you kids are too kind. Go right ahead."

Nala and Roho picked up their stones and bounded into the den. They entered through a cramped tunnel that descended about two yards into the earth, leading to a cozy den wrapped in earth and soothing darkness. Down here the air tasted cool and almost moist. There was something familiar about this place, about the smells and the way Sarabi's breath filled the chamber with every exhale. Somehow, being down here, Nala felt protected and loved. Sarabi lifted her head and smiled, though Nala thought her smile looked tired. In the darkness her eyes gleamed. "Oh, hello children. What brings you down here?"

"We brought you smooth stones," Nala said, nudging her stone toward Sarabi. Roho did the same. She watched anxiously, afraid Sarabi would hate them for being so plain and dry. Standing so close to her Nala noticed that she seemed to have put on some weight from staying underground for so long.

"Thank you, Nala. And you too, Roho." Sarabi cradled the stones to her chest and sniffed them. "These are lovely. Mmm, they smell like water."

Having carried her stone half-way back to Pride Rock in her mouth Nala was quite sure they smelled nothing like water but felt grateful for Sarabi's kind words. Roho piped up, "There were more. We dug up a whole bunch from the river bed but one of Scar's hyenas found us and chased us away. He said we were too little to be out there by ourselves and he was gonna report us to Captain Shenzi if we didn't do what he said."

"I'm sorry about that," Sarabi said sadly. "Scar's hyenas aren't very good at telling the difference between a cub and a juvenile. I'll make sure Captain Shenzi knows you two are old enough to be on your own, as long as you stay within sight of Pride Rock. Don't worry about the missing stones. I'm just glad to know you two are still thinking of me."

These words warmed Nala's heart. Although everyone respected Mufasa few Pridelanders loved him the way they loved Sarabi. "We miss you a lot. Everyone does."

"Auntie, how come you don't come out anymore?"

Sarabi rested her head on her forearm and gazed at them with her warm, ruby eyes half-closed. "I'm just tired."

This caused Roho to look alarmed. "Are you sick?"

Sarabi softly smiled. "No, dear."

"Are you hurt?"

The Queen chuckled. "I'm fine, Roho. Being Queen of the Pridelands is very stressful… especially with such a stubborn King." Nala and Roho stifled a pair of nervous smiles. "I'll be back to my old routine soon, I promise. Now let's talk. Roho, how you've grown!"

Roho blinked and looked at his paws as if Sarabi had said something startling. He awkwardly shuffled his feet and Nala giggled. Satisfied at having embarrassed her young nephew, Sarabi continued kindly, "Are you getting along with your sisters?"

He sighed glumly, "No. Mea gets all the attention and Bombu won't stop teasing me about my mane. I mean, not having one. She says I look like a girl."

"Nonsense. You're a handsome young lion."

Roho smiled modestly for a moment. "Plus, Ruka keeps scaring me."

Sarabi slightly raised her eyebrows. "Scaring you?"

"Yeah. Whenever I'm trying to relax or take a nap or – or do anything at all she sneaks up behind me and roars into my ear as loud as she can. I tell her and tell her to cut it out but she won't listen. She just laughs at me. That's why I hang out with Nala all the time. She's the only one who understands me."

"I'm sure they love you," Sarabi said unaffectedly.

Roho pawed at the earth. "No, just my mom, only half the time she's too busy with Mea and my sisters to notice me. And whenever I try and tell on them for picking on me they gang up and say I'm making up lies. It's not fair."

Sarabi listened attentively and Nala felt amazed by her ability to be sincerely sympathetic. Whenever she tried to show her friends sympathy she came off either patronizing or callous and sometimes needed to apologize for giving the wrong impression. After Roho finished talking she sat quietly for a moment, her eyes turned to distant plains, yet she never lost sight of the troubled cub in front of her. Finally, with an air of decisiveness, she spoke in gentle tones, "Nyonda tries her best. It's hard raising just one cub, let alone four. Siblings don't always get along but they always care for each other even if they have a funny way of showing it. It was always that way with Scar and Mufasa. In fact I believe that deep down inside he's still grieving."

"Then why did he make that stupid law?" Nala heard herself say. One month after Simba and Mufasa's death, shortly after his marriage to Sarabi, Scar created a new law that made it illegal to say Mufasa's name in his presence.

Sarabi sighed and flicked her tail. "Brothers are complicated. Scar is complicated. I don't know why he made that law, but he was very insistent upon it. Our pride has been critical of him ever since he welcomed the hyenas into our dens. Maybe he's afraid they'll compare him to his brother." She was about to add something else then seemed to give up. "But that's for another day. Now then, Nala, how have you been? Is Sarafina alright?"

Nala almost raised the subject of the hyenas. On second thought she decided to save it for another visit. The subject of Scar's hyenas seemed to depress her. "I'm doing fine. Mom misses you. If Scar's hyenas didn't make her hunt all the time she would come visit more often."

"I hope she doesn't mind leading the hunt without me." Leading the hunt was usually Sarabi's duty. Sarafina was second in command.

"Oh no, she loves bossing the other lionesses around," Nala exclaimed.

This lifted Sarabi's spirits and she chuckled, "Ah, that sounds like her. I miss her, too. Tell her I'll see her soon, okay?"

Nala beamed. "Of course! When will you be back?"

"Soon, I think," she answered vaguely. "I've been working on something these past few months. You'll have to wait and see what it is. By the way, how are your hunting lessons with Binti going?"

A surprise? Nala loved surprises. She hoped it was something for her mother, to make hunting easier. "Great, I caught my first rabbit yesterday! It almost tricked me but I outsmarted it."

"Wait until your first gazelle. They're clever. Did I ever tell you…"

At that moment another lioness crept down into Sarabi's den. Her dark pelt blended in with the earth, save for the white patches around her muzzle and eyes. She was long and lanky and her fur pock marked with the battle scars of a seasoned huntress. When she walked her body flowed out behind her like an ancient and powerful river. Sarabi and the two cubs all smiled at her presence and Roho gasped for joy, "Nana!"

"I thought I smelled cubs down here," Nana Uru cooed in her deep, rough voice. The two young lions bounded up to her and rubbed against her legs and she stroked them with her paw. "Nala and Roho, it's good to see you again. You're both looking fine and healthy."

"Thank you, Nana!" Roho and Nala said in unison.

Nala asked, "Nana, did you come to visit Sarabi, too?"

"More or less. We have important matters to discuss."

Nala gazed at Uru wondrously. All Nala's life Nana Uru had watched after the cubs of Pride Rock while their mothers went out hunting. When the hunting was done and every mouth fed she retreated from the pride to lie alone beneath the shade of an old boab tree. Sometimes she slept there, but just as often Nala caught a glimpse of her staring off into the horizon as if reminiscing about the wonders at the edge of the world. Perhaps she had been there once, for she seemed to know everything. On certain nights of the year the pride would gather around her under Pride Rock to hear her tell stories of the Kings of the Past: Ahadi, Mohatu, Zimwi, and others. There were other stories she told too, such as Anansi the Spider, a clever little spider who tricked everybody from lions to the sun and the moon and sometimes got away with it. Nala never thought of her as a lioness who would discuss 'important matters' with the Queen. Nana Uru always stayed out of politics, as far as she knew.

Before she could ask what she meant Uru gently shooed her and Roho away. Nala paused to glance over her shoulder as Nana Uru turned to Sarabi, but then Roho called to her and she scampered up the tunnel.

...


"How are you feeling today, my Queen?"

"Restless."

"Good, that's normal. Have your contractions started yet?"

"No, not yet. I hope they will start soon, they've never taken this long before. Will my cubs be alright?"

"Yes. Hopefully this delay won't last much longer."

"I'm worried, Uru."

"That's alright. You had nerves when you had Binti and Chibi, too."

"They were my first litter. This is different. Giving birth is the least of my troubles. Will the pride accept them?"

"Of course they will, your cubs bring us joy. I believe you're doing the right thing."
The Drunken Jester's avatar

Tipsy Man-Lover

I'm hooked. I'd write a more comprehensive review, but I'm on a mobile.
Chapter 3: Sensational News

The Great Kings of the Past looked down on the Serengeti in the misty morning, countless in number. Belly to the ground and eyes on the prey, young Nala crept up on a small herd of springbok grazing on the tough grass. She lifted her front paw slowly and put it down in front of her. Silent.

Her target was an old springbok with a broken horn and a slight limp in his front leg. The limp was unnoticeable to her, but her mother spotted it straight away. To Nala this springbok might as well have been a gemsbok. As she closed in on the herd, heart fluttering in her chest, she repeated a little poem in her head:

My name is Crocodile.
The grass is my pond
and I am only a log.


Sarafina taught her that poem on the week of her first hunting lesson with Binti, which had been taught to her by her mother Queen Mto of the Marshlands, and to Queen Mto by Sarafina's grandmother, and so on. All Marshlander cubs learned this poem to teach them how to stalk like crocodiles. There was nothing like it in the Pridelands; Binti taught by literal instruction and example, but Nala learned better by imagination. She helped the other cubs in her class learn to stalk like her but never shared her mother's poem, the key to her success. It was a secret that belonged only to mother and daughter, her special connection to a home she never knew.

My name is Crocodile.
The grass is my pond
and I am only a log.


Crackle. Her paw crushed a blade of brittle grass. A few of the springboks twitched but not the old one, whose hearing must be going bad. Nala's lungs expanded – it's now or never!

She sprang from cover and charged at the herd, letting out the loudest roar she could bellow. The springboks leapt into the air, darting like butterflies, so graceful she almost lost track of her goal. Putting herself between the old springbok and his herd she chased him toward the watering hole. Almost out of breath now. Just a little further. The old springbok flew away from her, far out of reach. He never saw the adult lioness lying in wait behind the large boulder ahead of them.

Sarafina leapt from cover and caught the old springbok's neck in her jaws. By the time they hit the ground the springbok was already dead, his neck snapped. She dropped the dead animal and turned to her daughter with a smile.

"We did it! That was incredible!" Nala screamed in joy. She bounded up to her mother and threw her forelegs around her neck. Her first real hunt was an enormous success, all thanks to her mother.

They had set out before sunrise to spend the morning together, before the hyenas started pestering Sarafina to hunt. Though she normally hated waking up so early once her mother told her plan for the hunt she dragged herself out of the den as quickly and gracefully as she could while half-asleep. It was the first time in weeks they managed to spend any quality time together. Nala ate most of the springbok, but after much insisting and waving around a springbok leg she finally convinced her mother to share a little of her kill. When the bones were picked clean they cuddled in a nest of tall grass and Sarafina pointed out King Zimwi's star, which she had never seen before.

Nala knew the story of King Zimwi by heart: the Marshlanders were dying of a terrible plague and King Zimwi was gravely ill, so he sent his eldest son Baako for help. Baako found Ahadi and the young king sent his shaman Rafiki to create a cure, ultimately saving the Marshlanders pride from destruction and creating a friendship that would last generations. In celebration of their new alliance Ahadi sent his daughter Thema to marry Baako in the Marshlands. Meanwhile Zimwi sent his daughter Sarafina, along with his nieces Eupe and Buibui, the three most promising young huntresses in the Marshland, to live in the Pridelands. Everyone in the Pridelands knew this story, but Nala knew it better than most because her mother had been telling it to her as a bedtime story since she was a cub. After hearing the same story so many times it got a little boring, even the part about the lionesses racing to find the right herbs for Rafiki's cure.

She asked her mother to tell a different story, something about when she was a cub. Sarafina thought for a little while and started to tell a story about the time she frightened her father by bringing a baby crocodile into her father's den to keep as a pet. Nala slept through the ending, but her mother promised to tell her again on another day. By the time she opened her eyes the sun was climbing over the horizon. It was time to go home.

As they neared Pride Rock Nala yawned and closed her eyes. If only she was still little enough for her mother to carry in her mouth she could go back to sleep right now. Suddenly her mother murmured, "What in the world…?"

She opened her eyes and started at the sight of the entire pride gathered out in front of Pride Rock. Hyenas paced and huddled close together in small groups along the fringes of the pride, ignoring the lionesses gathered haphazardly in the middle and talking passionately amongst themselves. Nala frantically scanned the scene. No, not the entire pride; Scar was missing along with Sarabi and Nana Uru. The last time the whole pride gathered together like this… she tried not to think about it… "Mom?"

"I don't know…" said Sarafina, her lips parted. Her ears lowered and she adopted a more cautious pace.

Just then the golden twins, Binti and Chibi, came bounding out of the crowd towards them. With vibrant golden fur, red-orange eyes, and tufts of unruly fur on the tops of their heads they resembled their lost little brother in appearance and spirit. Simba used to have a knack for telling them apart, despite doing his best to avoid their company. They were bratty teenagers then, spoiled princesses who would never carry the burdens of their mother and father, loving nothing more than to butt in on Simba and Nala's games (or so it seemed to her).

She only warmed up to the twins after Simba's death. All her old grudges vanished on the day of Simba's funeral when she found herself comforted in the twins' arms. Now that she had hunting lessons with Binti she liked them even more, even if she still couldn't tell them apart.

"Sarafina!" one of the twins called.

"Zazu's looking for you!" called the other, who might have been Binti. "He says he needs to give you a special message."

"Where is he? And what's going on?"

"He just flew out over the grassland. I'll go get him!" said the twin that might have been Chibi. She raced off.

Maybe-Binti continued at a manic pace, "You'll never guess what happened! Mom just had another cub!"

"What?" Sarafina's mouth fell open.

Of course Nala already knew about the birds-and-the-bees. Her mother explained it to her months ago, although even if she hadn't the hyenas were so indecent that she could have pieced the mystery together on her own. Did that mean Scar was the father?

She didn't know what to think of Scar. All she knew was that he was Mufasa's younger brother, an intelligent but cold lion with a reputation for being eccentric who for some reason sympathized with hyenas, which might have been his strangest and most off-putting quirk. She never understood why Sarabi chose to marry Scar in the first place other than the Queen's vague reply about 'duty', let alone why she decided to have another cub so soon. Maybe this cub was an accident. That should have made sense, but then why did Sarabi seem so pleased when she spoke to her in the cave? Was she simply relieved?

The conversation went on ahead of Nala's thoughts. Maybe-Binti explained, "Nobody knew she was pregnant, not even us. Now that the news is out everybody is talking about it. She must have been hiding it for weeks."

"Why would she hide it from us?" Sarafina frowned and shook her head with a snort. "Something's not right here. She would have told me if she was pregnant."

"Duzi thinks she hid it because uncle Scar isn't really the father and now that the truth is out they're making up a story to make it seem like the cub really is his. That makes me sad, you know. I don't think Sarabi would cheat on him like that."

"Oh please," Sarafina groaned, rolling her eyes. Duzi, the pride gossip, could always be relied on to make up outrageous stories and spin rumors at the drop of a leaf. Stepping out of her mother's shadow, Nala stood between them to join the conversation. "I saw Sarabi last night, she said she was working on something special. There's no way she would have said that if she was trying to hide something." Sarafina nodded in agreement.

As she thought about their conversation in the cave she realized Sarabi seemed more comfortable with her decision than she thought at first. Or at least it looked that way. Her mother explained that lionesses usually take three months to give birth, so she must have had time to accept her cub even if it was unexpected. There had also been time for Nala to accept Sarabi's marriage to Scar. When their marriage was announced she felt confused and angry, but after four months their marriage became another unfortunate fact of life like having to leave a warm den in the middle of a chilly night because your bladder is full. She realized a long time ago that feeling angry about it wouldn't do any good. Sarabi was still Sarabi no matter what.

"Have you seen her, Binti?" Sarafina asked. Despite knowing better than to believe in Duzi's rumors she still sounded suspicious.

Binti shook her head sadly. "No, mom's resting. The nursing den is scary, there are hyenas everywhere. I think Uncle Scar's down there, too."

Sarafina growled, "He shouldn't be down there. Males aren't supposed to intrude on a female after she's given birth."

"Well you know Uncle Scar. He's so unconventional." After everything Scar did to change things she was a little surprised to see Binti fondly mocking him as though he was still nothing more than her funny uncle.

Her mother's ears flattened and she scoffed, "That's putting it lightly."

Taking advantage of the lull, Nala asked, "How do you know Scar's the father?" Her mother's suspicions made her think there must be more to this than she knew.

Binti replied, "That's what Zazu said."

"Zazu only says what the King tells him to say," said Sarafina harshly. "Since Scar took over I haven't trusted one word out of that little hornbill's mouth until I've seen the truth with my own eyes. You should be wary too, Binti. Just because he's your uncle…"

She frowned. "You don't know him, Sara. Uncle Scar's always taken care of us."

"I found him!" The three lionesses turned around, hearing Chibi racing up the path with Zazu flying behind her. She sat down beside them as Zazu came in for a graceful landing.

"Well it's about time! I've been looking for you two all morning," he squawked.

"Good morning to you, too," grumbled Sarafina. When Zazu wasn't looking Nala stuck out her tongue a little bit, causing Chibi to giggle. Zazu looked less than amused.

"Lady Sarafina, sarcasm is most unbecoming of you. I understand you wished to have an early morning outing with your daughter but as the King's Majordomo I would appreciate it if you let me know in advance, should anything come up."

"I'll be sure to do that. You had a message for us?"

"Indeed." He took a deep breath and spread his wings with a pompous flourish of blue feathers. "Lady Sarafina and Daughter Nala, Jewels of the Marshland, the Great King Scar cordially invites you to be his guests of honor at the Royal Presentation of Prince Kivuli. He wishes you to be seated beside members of the royal bloodline on the Throne of Pride Rock. The ceremony is to take place approximately one week from now or as soon as the Prince's eyes have opened. Please RSVP, The Great King Scar: dictated but not read."

Nala stared at him in blank bemusement. Once the message sank in she started to smile. The grown-ups used to gush about the Royal Presentation of Simba, an event they described with such vivid praise that even now she could scarcely imagine its beauty. Besides, she felt immensely curious about the new born cub – and even about Scar, only knowing him from the humorous stories Simba used to tell. Like Binti and Chibi Simba always seemed fond of his uncle, in spite of his strangeness. After Scar let the hyenas into the Pridelands her vision of him as a goofy old lion was shaken but she knew there had to be something positive about him. Or at least he had to be a very good liar.

Sarafina still had that suspicious look in her eyes. "Why us?"

"I'm sorry, he didn't say. If I had to guess I would surmise that you were invited because of your longstanding friendship with the royal family. After all you were invited as the Queen's guest of honor at the Royal Presentation of Binti and Chibi as well as the Royal Presentation of Simba."

"Yes, but those invitations came from Sarabi and while I was grateful for the gesture I declined both times. She knows how I feel about that."

"Oh, don't be so serious all the time! We'd love to have you there on the Throne with us, right Binti?"

She nodded enthusiastically. "And mom's going to love having you there, really!"

"Indeed, her Majesty would be delighted. Sarabi is no longer the shy young lady you met when you came to the Pridelands. There was a time when many of us believed you were better suited to the throne, but although you are indeed a capable leader the time of doubt has passed. One need not be born a princess to be a queen and her Majesty is living proof."

Sarafina was silent, but Nala was determined not to let this opportunity pass her by. If the bravest huntress in the Pridelands felt anxious about something that was usually enough for her, except that this time Binti and Chibi seemed perfectly fine with the idea. Whatever bug got under her mother's skin this morning Nala felt sure it was just fatigue from waking up so early in the morning. "I think it sounds like fun," she said a little defiantly.

Still uneasy, her mother turned to Zazu. "Will the hyenas be there?"

"But of course! The three Captains of the Guard are his Majesty's closest comrades."

Nala felt her excitement wane. "I don't care, I just want to meet Sarabi's new cub," she exclaimed, covering up her fear with bravado.

"As a matter of fact, Sarafina," said Zazu, "her Majesty would like to speak to you personally as soon as she is rested. If you wish, you may think it over until tomorrow morning." His tone suggested that the meeting would be important. Sarafina raised her eyebrows.

"Is something the matter?"

"Not at all! At least not that I know of… All I can say for certain is that her Majesty wishes to see you as soon as possible."

"Can I come, too?" Nala asked. She was eager to talk to Sarabi after everything that happened, but Zazu seemed hesitant.

"Well, I… I suppose so… But the conversation may be a bit boring for you. Lots of politics and that."

"That's okay!" she exclaimed happily. With her mother there to help maybe she could finally learn something interesting about her pride, something to make her feel like an adult. Maybe she could even figure out a way to help make things better for everyone. "Please mom! I'll be good, I promise."

Sarafina's eyes warmed lovingly, yet her expression only lasted for a short time before her face clouded with worry. Like all the adults in the pride her mother seemed increasingly worried about everything. Listening to the older lionesses talk about their problems with the hyenas and Scar was what inspired Nala to take an interest in the goings on about the pride, in the hope that she could find some way to contribute. Initially she only wanted their praise but as time went on she found herself thinking more and more about others and less about herself.

Finally her mother sighed. "Alright, you can come. Tell Sarabi we'll see her tomorrow morning."
Chapter 4: Listen to Teacher

Life went on as usual. Her mother went back to the communal den to nap before today's hunt. Too excited to sleep, Nala only dozed for an hour or so when Ruka and her sister Bombu woke her for Binti's hunting lesson.

Before Simba passed away, Nala, Simba, Ruka, and Roho were known and feared by cub sitters everywhere as the perfect storm of Trouble: Nala the Clever, Simba the Prankster, Ruka the Daredevil, and Roho the Trustworthy. Roho made them successful. The moment Nala came up with a plan, Roho had already figured out ten ways it could go wrong. He wasn't the strongest, the smartest, or the bravest (certainly not the bravest), but as a lookout he was as thorough as he was paranoid and his wide, innocent eyes could disarm the most suspicious adults, and Simba always stood up for him when Ruka started picking on him. Until he died Nala never realized how much he did to keep the group together. With Simba gone Roho had no one to defend him from Ruka's teasing. Nala tried to take over Simba's role, but this pitted her against Ruka and the group's delicate balance was lost.

Now that Roho had his hunting lessons with Chibi, hunting lessons with Binti were just like old times for Ruka and Nala. On this day she was surprised to see Ruka in such a good mood. "How do you feel about the news? I know you were hoping to be queen."

Everyone expected Scar and Sarabi to name Ruka as their heir. Nyonda's cubs were next in line for the throne after Scar and out of all of them Ruka suited the throne best, being the oldest of her litter, the top of her hunting class, with a fiery soul and a courageous reputation rivaled only by Mufasa, and best of all, the daughter of Scar's cousin and Sarabi's adopted sister. Although she lacked wisdom and reservation the other lionesses felt confident Sarabi could smooth out her sharp edges in time. She even looked the part of a queen. Her sienna coat and dark eye-rims mimicked her mother, who also resembled Scar, and her crimson tail tuft flew boldly like Mufasa's mane. Her dark brow-spots and brown eyes made her unique amongst the Pridelanders.

"Pish, no skin off my nose. Being queen is too much responsibility anyway. I'd have to be Miss Goody Four Paws every day!" Despite her grandstanding, Nala detected bitterness in Ruka's voice. Nala made a mental note to ask Sarabi about her decision the next time she saw her. As they walked to the grassy field where Binti held class, Nala told her friends about her mother's special invitation and tomorrow's visit with Sarabi.

"I can't believe how lucky you are, Nala! I wish I was going to see the baby," Bombu whined.

"Is that all you can talk about?" Ruka sighed at her little sister, who had been gushing about Kivuli all morning. "Don't you get it? This 'baby' is going to be the next king."

"I know! That makes her even more lucky! Can I come too, Nala? Pleeeease?"

Nala smiled at her bouncing friend. Bombu always managed to get a smile out of her, though she sometimes wondered whether her enthusiasm was genuine or a plea for attention. "Mom and Sarabi are just going to talk about politics and stuff. You probably wouldn't like it, but I'm sure Nyonda would take you if you asked."

"I did but mom only said 'maybe' and you know what that means," Bombu groaned.

"You'll still get to see him at the ceremony," she said. Suddenly her ears pricked and tilted toward the tall grass. Someone or something was rustling in the brush. She slowed and tried to see if Ruka noticed it too when a young lion leapt from the grass.

"I know, but it's so – ah!" Bombu screamed as the lion attacked her. Nala and Ruka jumped back just in time to avoid being caught in the scuffle as Bombu and her laughing attacker rolled through the grass. Recognizing the attacker, Ruka jumped in the air and laughed, "Yeah! Get her, Chumvi! Bite her ear!"

"Ow ow ow ow! No fair! I give up!" Chumvi climbed off of her with a victorious grin. As she got to her feet Bombu swatted sand at him. "That was mean, Chumvi! I wasn't ready!"

Ignoring her Chumvi trotted up to Ruka and the two friends swatted playfully at one another. Nala couldn't help but giggle. At one time she felt jealous of Chumvi for taking her place as Ruka's best friend, but now she was just happy they were all still together. "Come on you guys, we're going to be late."

Ruka and Chumvi looked at Nala and then at each other. "Bet I'll get there before you!" Chumvi dared and took off. Ruka raced after him, laughing and calling him a cheater.

Bombu groaned, "Ugh, those two are so obnoxious... Hey, wait!"

As Nala raced after Ruka and Chumvi she glanced her shoulder and called, "Come on, Bombu! You don't want to be last!"



They arrived on a flat, grassy plain overlooked by a dead tree that had fallen on its side during the last rain. Chumvi arrived first of course, having cheated to gain the lead, while Nala and Ruka came in a close second with Bombu not far behind. Standing on the trunk, Binti greeted them with a smile. Neema, the youngest member of their class, arrived next, her ungroomed fur sticking out in all directions. Binti scolded her for showing up dirty to practice again and sent the sulking youngster back to her mother for a bath. A brief look of guilt flashed across Binti's face as Neema sank into the distance. She hated being the bad guy, but Nala felt glad she finally put her foot down.

While they waited on Neema and Wezi, Nala, Ruka, Bombu and Chumvi warmed up for their lesson. Nala tried to appear aloof, going through the motions as usual, but the longer she waited the more composure slipped from her grasp. None of her friends knew what she and her mother were up to this morning. Bragging no longer appealed to her; she found private victories far more satisfying, so she happily kept her secret. Shortly after Binti's first roar signaling the start of the lesson Wezi came sprinting onto the field and stumbled up to the log, gasping for breath.

Wezi's mother Eupe joined the Pridelands with Nala's mother and her cousin Buibui, so when Eupe and Sarafina became pregnant around the same time they naturally decided to raise their daughters together. Although Wezi seemed like an older sister, Nala usually spent more time with Simba and his cousins Ruka, Roho, and their siblings, although she still felt very close to her. Wezi was sweet but unadventurous, as pure as her pale cream fur, a friend who loved long, interesting conversations over competition and rough-housing. Eupe once called her daughter an 'old soul.' Even though Nala didn't know what she meant the description stuck in her mind. Wezi felt more like an adult than anyone else her age, but unlike real adults Wezi happily listened to her ideas and treated her as an equal.

Not that she suffered for lack of competitive spirit. During their hunting games she was level headed and calculating. She might not be the quickest sprinter, but when opportunity came she rarely missed her mark.

"I'm… I'm sorry… for being tardy… Miss Binti," Wezi panted. She must have run the whole way, Nala thought unexpectedly. Wezi never showed up late before.

"That's alright, just have a seat and catch your breath. We're still waiting for someone."

"Th… thank you, Miss… Binti…"

Nala waited until Wezi caught her breath and asked, "Are you alright?"

"Mm-hm!" Wezi nodded vigorously. Nala frowned but didn't want to pry.

A few minutes later Binti roared for last call. While the air still rumbled they heard Neema shout from far away, "Wait for meeee!" Neema skidded into the field, clean but dizzy from being out of breath. She apologized over and over for being late and begged to stay for the lesson between gasps.

"Alright Neema, but to make up for being late and showing up without a bath you have to play the part of our first prey animal."

"Awwwwww!" Neema bowed her head. Ruka and Chumvi giggled.

Today they would learn how to hunt in a basic formation. No hunt could succeed unless all the huntresses memorized their formations and knew their individual responsibilities by heart. There would be no one to help them if they forgot their role in the middle of a hunt, when communication needed to be kept to a minimum to keep the herd unawares. Nala fidgeted.

For their first lesson they would learn a simple two-lion formation good for hunting small prey. Binti separated class into groups of two: Bombu and Chumvi, Nala and Wezi, and finally Ruka and Neema. The first lion in each group would play the part of 'runner,' the second the part of 'pouncer,' and the pouncer from the last group would play the prey animal for the next group. Each round they would change roles and partners until they used every combination.

Bombu and Chumvi went first while Nala, Wezi, and Ruka watched from the log. While Bombu and Chumvi planned their attack Binti brought Neema out into the middle of the field and made her stand with her eyes on the ground like a grazing animal. She could listen for the hunters but could not look for them unless they made a sound. If Neema spotted them before Bombu started her run or if Chumvi's ambush failed Neema would win the round. Once she finished explaining the rules Neema suddenly looked cheerful again. Nala wasn't surprised. Being the prey sounded kind of fun.

The game was the same as Nala's first hunt with her mother. Bombu would startle the prey – Neema – and chase it toward Chumvi, who would hide and wait for the right moment to pounce. Bombu's hunt did not go well. Her paws kept crushing the grass and the noise seemed to get louder the harder she tried to be silent. Neema looked over her shoulder, looked Bombu right in the eyes laughed. Chumvi started to complain about being stuck with Bombu. "Chumvi, don't be rude," Binti scolded. "Bombu tried her best. You'll both get another turn soon. Nala and Wezi, it's your turn to hunt. Now Chumvi is the prey."

While Binti helped Chumvi into position and reminded him of the rules Nala ducked down and told Wezi her plan. Wezi didn't seem to be listening and kept glancing at her paws. Whatever was bothering her Nala hoped she could pull herself together. No way would she lose to Chumvi.

"Got it, Wezi?" she whispered. Wezi nodded distractedly. As she crept off toward the hiding place Nala picked out for her she began to worry. Once Wezi was in position Nala began sneaking through the grass. She turned her paws on their sides as she neared her target, just like her mother showed her. And… now!

"Woah!" Chumvi leapt into the air when she snapped at his back legs and took off with a mad dash.

From the log, Ruka cheered, "Run, Chumvi, run!"

Chumvi sprinted past Wezi's hiding place at full speed. After he was gone Wezi sat up, looking completely bewildered, and Ruka whooped for joy and cheered some more. Nala slowed to a jog and unconsciously bared her teeth as she caught her breath. "Wezi! What happened?"

"I'm sorry. He was just too fast for me," Wezi murmured with her ears down.

When Wezi's turn to be the prey came she barely even tried to outrun Ruka, who caught her before she reached Neema, which made Neema upset because she didn't get to do anything. She said little during class, which was not unusual, but Nala felt concerned by the glassy look in her eyes and her sudden lack of focus. Wezi seemed like another lion. After their lesson Nala caught up to her as she was leaving. Bombu joined them, also concerned by Wezi's strange behavior. Nala spoke first. "What's wrong, Wezi?"

Wezi looked away. She always seemed so calm and composed that to seeing her on the verge of tears filled her with fear and worry.

"Wezi…"

"Come on," Bombu coaxed. "We're your friends, you can tell us anything. We want to help."

Wezi closed her eyes and her face tensed up. Unable to go any further, she stopped and gave a shuddering sigh. "I don't know how to say this… This morning I heard mom talking to Buibui. She… she said that we might have to leave the Pridelands. She said she's tired of living here and she doesn't want Scar's son to be king because he'll just keep the hyenas around or worse. It's not fair! I don't like Scar either, but I this is my home!"

Bombu looked stuck. "What!? No way! I'm sure your mom didn't mean it! She's probably just upset because we were all hoping Ruka would be the next heir. My mom was upset too when she found out, but now she says it's probably for the best. You know, Scar's not the worst king. My mom says he's actually really smart. Eupe just needs to give him a chance."

Unlike Bombu, Nala never found herself swept up in the emotions of others. She kept her head even though she felt like shaking. Wezi was the only friend she had who made her feel like an adult. She couldn't lose her. She sat down close to Wezi and tried to console her, "Bombu's right. A lot of lionesses said they would leave but we're all still here. Even Huzuni never left the Pridelands."

"That's because they don't have anywhere else to go," Wezi said, trying not to choke on her own tears. "Mom said we would go back to the Marshlands. I've never been there before... I don't know anyone and – and…" Her voice shook with fright. Bombu looked like she might also cry.

Nala felt a lump in her throat. No matter how many stories their parents told, the Marshlands would never feel as much like home as the foot of Pride Rock. Of course they speculated about going there someday, only for a visit, and Wezi always added she would never want to stay permanently. She disliked change and her premature maturity meant few cubs could relate to her as well as Nala. Nala felt afraid too: afraid of losing another friend, the only friend her age she could always rely upon when she needed to talk, but she felt even more afraid of letting Wezi and Bombu see her cracks. She would rather the whole world fall apart than let a single lion see her cry again. There had to be something she could do.

"Maybe my mom can help. She doesn't like Scar either, but she's staying for Sarabi and everyone else. Even if Scar is a lousy king Sarabi will always be here to protect us. I know she'll raise Kivuli to be a great king, just like Mufasa."

With Bombu leaning against her, Wezi tried to wipe the tears from her eyes. "But what if my mother won't listen?"

"My mom's a princess. That means she has to listen to her, right?"

Her two friends looked at each other in silence. "Yeah, Nala's right. She has to listen. Everything's gonna be okay, you'll see," said Bombu, nosing Wezi's cheek reassuringly.

"You think so?"

Nala looked Wezi in the eyes. There was nothing she could have done to save Simba's life. This time her circumstances were different. She would not lose another friend. "I promise mom will set Eupe straight. Let's go talk to her right now."

Wezi struggled to compose herself. She bit her lip and nodded slowly in silent thanks.



Nyonda stretched out under an acacia tree. Draped limply over her mother's shoulders, Bombu's little sister, Mea, slept deeply with one leg hanging off Nyonda's side, almost touching the ground. Mea would soon be too old for lying on top of her mother like a cub, though Nyonda looked too placid to do anything about it.

During the wet season Simba, Roho, Ruka and Nala spent many lazy afternoons here on the western rise of Pride Rock, playing in the shade and climbing the acacias while their parents napped in the cool shadows. Once Nala and Wezi had climbed high into one of these trees with Kula and Moto and formed a secret club so they could make their jealous friends do ridiculous things when they wanted to join. Now the acacias were baking in the heat of the dry season, their branches brittle, and an acrid breeze swept the barren ground. A small group of hyenas gathered under one of the nearby trees. Bombu and Wezi eyed them warily, but Nala quickly forgot them. She needed to find her mother.

Nyonda blinked blearily. "Hmm… I saw her headed toward the hyena dens with Buibui and Pamba less than an hour ago."

Nala's tail drooped. "So she's hunting…"

Beside her, Wezi wrinkled her brow and Bombu gave her a worried look. If Sarafina was hunting Wezi might not be able to speak to her until tomorrow.

Nyonda yawned and flexed her toes. "Not exactly. She wants to convince Mama Kishenzi to form her own hunting party. If she had Sarabi she might have a better chance, but there's nothing to be done about that. She needs her rest."

Mama Kishenzi, the one-eyed queen of the hyenas. Despite her fears, Nala felt a spark of hope knowing her mother had not yet reached the savannah. "Do you know when she'll be back?"

"Mm, she didn't say. Would you like to wait with me until then?"

Nala had never seen Wezi this anxious before. If her mother could just say a few comforting words she knew she would feel better, but every conversation her mother had with the hyenas ended the same way, with hunting. Waiting with Nyonda would accomplish nothing if her mother planned to meet her hunting party after seeing the hyena queen. There was only one way. She drew herself up. "In that case, I'll go make sure she knows we're here."

Nyonda's eyes finally opened all the way. "Now Nala…"

She must have heard that tone a million times before. Stay away from the hyena dens, Nala. It's just as bad as the Elephant Graveyard, Nala. As if she didn't know any better. "I promise I'll keep a safe distance and wait until mom and the others leave. If I don't catch them they won't be coming back until after dinner. Please Miss Nyonda, this is really important."

Nyonda drew a tense breath. Nala held her's. "Well… alright…"

Before she could finish Nala sprinted down the slope. As she ran she heard Nyonda call, "But be careful!"

"I will - thank you!"

Scar's hyenas lived in the rock tunnels on the western side of Pride Rock, near the royal chamber where the King held counsel in a cave beneath the peak of Pride Rock. Before the hyenas came Nala went exploring the rock tunnels with Simba on a dare from Chumvi. The tunnels were old and unstable, an easy place for a cub to get lost or trapped or in deep trouble with their parents – the perfect proving ground. Now only Scar walked freely on the hyena's ground but never in the tunnels, too cramped for an adult lion.

Just like hunting practice with Binti, Nala reassured herself. As she neared the boulders that protected the rock tunnels she slowed to a trot and crouched low until the grass covered her. From there she could make out the shapes of four lionesses standing in front of a boulder: Pemba, Buibui, and her mother, but who was the forth? Gathered around them, a crowd of about a dozen hyenas glared at the lionesses while above them, perched on the boulder itself, stood two enormous hyenas, one of them Mama Kishenzi. Even from a distance everyone looked tense. She could just barely make out the immense displeasure in Kishenzi's voice. Nala crept closer and strained her ears.

"… no food… suffering… The Sootfoot clan…" What? Is that their name? Curious, she crept even closer.

An enormous, silvery-grey hyena whose black spots seemed to leap off her fur like evil spirits stared down the four lionesses with one yellow, hate-filled eye. Kishenzi looked like a carcass that refused to die. Though not directed at Nala, the hyena queen's gaze turned her insides to ice. Fear prevented her from moving any further, but luckily she could make out more words.

"… for sympathy, but where was your sympathy when… our children? You ask for reason, but where was your reason when Mufasa… stinking graveyard?"

The unidentified lioness spoke and Nala realized with a shock that the voice belonged to Nana Uru. "… paid for the mistakes of the past. Let us work together to mend these wounds."

"It's too late for that!" the second hyena snapped. That was Captain Shenzi! The hyenas yipped in chorus and one of the lionesses shook her head in disgust while the others whipped the air with their tails. Shenzi waited until the hyenas quieted down and shouted, "You lions think you're so damn noble, using all those pretty words. I got some news for you. Words don't bring back the dead!"

The hyena's howling laughter rose higher and stabbed her ears even as she flattened them against her head with a grimace. As the hyenas dispersed Nala felt a sense of relief. What was that all about? And what's Nana doing here?

No time to think about that. Sarafina and the others were already heading toward the savannah. Nala realized that she was right, her mother had sent her hunting party on ahead and now they were going to meet them. She made a run for it. Sarafina stopped and looked behind her. "Nala?"

"Mom, wait!" After catching her breath, she passed on everything Wezi told her while Buibui looked on disapprovingly. Nala fed off of it and glared back. Buibui deserved to feel ashamed for wanting to take Eupe's daughter away from the Pride Lands. She felt so excited and proud of herself that she finished talking before she noticed her mother's stern expression and froze like a startled gazelle. Sarafina asked Pamba and Buibui to go on ahead of her.

"The next time you hear about something like this, don't say a word to anyoneuntil I come home. Do you realize how much trouble you could have caused? What would have happened if one of those hyenas followed us and heard what you said?"

Her mother's harsh question hit her like a ton of rocks. She suddenly found herself remembering the hyenas' unprovoked attack on Laini that cost her most of her right ear. Was it because she wanted to leave, too? "I… I didn't think…"

"You need to be more cautious now. The Pridelands aren't safe anymore. We'll talk more about this later. Go back to Pride Rock and stay with Uru until I return."

Nala's head was spinning. Why would the hyenas care who wanted to leave? Didn't they hate lions? What if those hyenas resting near Nyonda overheard Wezi and Bombu talking? "But what about Wezi?"

"She's your responsibility. I'll talk to Eupe and Buibui, but right now I have more important things to do. Stay with Uru and don't say a word."

"But –!" She started to follow her mother. She had only taken a few steps when Sarafina broke into a run, shrinking into the distance while Nala stood on the bleak plain, jaw slack.

Nala startled and saw Uru's ancient green eyes looking down on her. She turned away, biting her lip. How long have I been standing here? Everything is so messed-up. Oh, Wezi… I'm so stupid.

Together they walked back to the western ridge of Pride Rock. Uru moved with slow, graceful steps, and Nala silently thanked her for the saunter. She had forgotten her curiosity about why Uru went to see the hyenas. All she could think about was Wezi and what might happen to her mother because of her. I only wanted to help…

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