Chapter 1

Dawn crept over the Pride Lands, washing the inky black sky in a misty pink glow. Slowly, the sun's pale fingers stretched beneath the clouds until the distant silhouettes of thin wispy trees became distinct in the distance. Birds began to chirrup, hailing the morning with their ceaseless chatter, and slowly but surely, the African Pride Lands came awake.

But there was one who had been awake long before the others. Taka, a sturdy young male lion with the faint beginnings of a black mane, sat alone on the edge of Pride Rock, looking out across the land and reflecting that today, their father would chose which son would become the future ruler. It was the Pride tradition that when a king had two cubs, both would contend in a test of wisdom, kindness, and strength. Taka did not know what the test would be, but was confident he was ready.

"Taka?"

Taka turned to see his brother had awoken and was standing in the mouth of the cave where the other lions slept. It had always been this way: Taka arose early while Mufasa slept in. Mufasa never was a morning lion . . . Yet in more ways than one were Taka and his brother opposites. Taka had taken after their father the King Ahadi, and was black of mane and green of eye while Mufasa had taken after their fairer mother Queen Uru and had a brown mane and eyes almost golden, especially when Mufasa smiled.

"Finally, awake, are you?" Taka sneered, though he could not help but smile. He and Mufasa had that kind of love/hate relationship, but Taka sometimes thought he rather hated more than loved . . .

Mufasa laughed and moved closer. "You know I'm no morning lion, but you – you're always awake before the birds!"

"One would think you didn't want to be king," said Taka, studying his brother with sincere curiosity. He could not understand how Mufasa could be so laid back about something that seemed more than important to him. In a lion's pride, power meant everything: the best mate, the first food, total control of the law. Taka couldn't understand how Mufasa could not want that kind of power! But then again, Taka had always been cleverer than Mufasa, who was good-hearted but too trusting and almost naïve.

Mufasa tilted his head and frowned. "Why do you want this so badly?"

Taka narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you?"

The two brothers remained staring at each other, struggling as they had their entire lives to understand each other as their parents sat watching them from the shadows of the cave. The other lions still slept and would not wake for several more minutes, but Ahadi and Uru sat side by side, watching their children who were almost adults and murmuring together.

"Why are you so frightened?" Ahadi demanded of his wife with a smile. "No matter which prince wins the competition, they are brothers and will still love each other!"

Uru shook her head. "I am a mother, Ahadi. I knew these two before they came into the world: they argued in the womb and will continue to argue all of their lives! Mufasa is not the type to hold a grudge, but Taka is! He's power-hungry and if he loses – I can only imagine how he'll hate Mufasa and it will hurt Mufasa so . . ."

Ahadi listened to his wife's words with a frown and the more he listened, the more he realized how true his wife's words were. He'd seen the hunger in Taka's eyes himself and knew there would be trouble whether Taka defeated Mufasa or not. It had always been a budding idea in the back of Ahadi's mind to split the kingdom in half, thus allowing both sons to rule, but the more he watched Taka as the cub grew into his teens, the more he realized it were better if Taka did not rule at all. Taka was unkind and selfish and conniving while Mufasa was just the opposite. Yes, Ahadi already knew who would be the next king, but what was he to do with Taka?

As the sun continued its climax toward the top of the sky, the other lions in the cave began to stir.

"It is time," muttered Ahadi, drawing himself up. He nuzzled his wife and added, "All will turn out fine, Uru, rest assured."

Mufasa and Taka nuzzled their mother in greeting, then set out after their father and the other lions who would witness he competition.