When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free."
- Catherine Ponder.
"Anger is just a cowardly extension of sadness. It's a lot easier to be angry at someone than it is to tell them you're hurt."
He found the strong stench of old earth nearly overbearing as he looked on, shivering.
His mother's sharp, chiseled features were illuminated by the light from the flame his brother, Nuka, had carried all the way from the Elephant Graveyard's sulfur pits, and down into one of their fortress's dark tunnels where the whole pride had gathered. Expressionless, the lionesses sat facing the crumbly wall where the small, dark-furred cub cowered before the light of the fire at his dirty paws. There was hardly a need for the ember's glow, fed by several small sticks, as the pitifully concealed terror in his green eyes would have been plain even in the dark.
"Oh, Scar," Zira exulted to the still, stuffy air, her grating voice causing the cub to startle wildly. "With every bone in your body, all you wanted was to be the greatest king that would've made all the generations before look like sniveling little cubs. Why did that wretched, cruel Simba have to return from the dead and knock you from your deserved position as king of Pride Rock? He had no right to be there, and he had little more reason to end you, my dear."
The haggard lioness' sigh had the hint of a growl as she shook her head morosely. Her body sagged for a moment before she was lifting her chin high again.
"What possessed him to curse us to such a horrid existence here, after some beast thought to rid us of his foolish, and all too curious son, Chaka? The boy deserved what he got, but it wasn't my fault. And though my suffering cannot be compared to yours, Scar, the vengeance in my dark heart is my heavy burden to carry with me each day. Scar, you will be avenged, and my Kovu, one day, will be the one to do it."
"Mother, what is this?" croaked the cub.
Zira's muzzle wrinkled into a frightening snarl that made the boy cringe. When she seemed satisfied by his silence, her eyes then flickered to Nuka. One brother relaxed while the other tensed and prepared himself for Zira's unpredictable nature.
"Nuka, put that blessing mess on him," she ordered.
Swallowing, Kovu easily caught the resentful gleam in Nuka's eyes as the adolescent lion stepped towards him. In his jaws he carried a striped, orange gourd, which Vitani had scavenged from Rafiki's tree just for the occasion. Nuka turned, dipped his scruffy tail into the juice and slopped it roughly over the cub's brow. When some of the juice dripped into his green eyes, he tried hard not to whimper.
Nuka bent down close to Kovu's ear. "If I were you, I wouldn't look so terrified. Mother idolizes you. Make her proud."
Unable to ignore the advice, at once Kovu straightened up and gave a little nod to his elder.
"Thanks," he whispered.
His brother didn't acknowledge him as he picked up the gourd and returned to his spot next to Vitani. Kovu had heard the jealously in his brother's voice, but he feared his mother's displeasure more than the wedge she had driven between them.
I wish mother would just give him a chance... it would take the pressure off me...
He flinched when the lionesses began to hum, filling the tunnel with a low, eerie rumble.
"Scar, watch over my young Kovu, and lead him to victory when he has grown big and strong," Zira began again, her head lifted high and her eyes closed in passion. "I know I can train him to do what will be done when Simba stands before him. But I can't do it alone. With your help, we shall regain our rightful place at Pride Rock. Kovu will become king in your name, and bring Simba to the ground."
At this moment the humming stopped.
"Come, my sisters," his mother spoke, standing up. "Tonight, we will leave Kovu to the very beginning of his destiny. This is the night he turns his back on his cubhood and becomes something much greater!"
As the lionesses began to leave behind their prized male cub, Kovu panicked. As his sister passed by, he snapped his jaws around her tail and yanked her back.
She yelped and swatted at him. "Kovu! Stop it!"
"You can't leave me here!" Kovu wailed, his eyes filling with woeful tears. "The fire- it's almost out!"
"Oh, Kovu." Vitani sympathetically shook her head. "They're expecting so much out of you tonight. In the morning, when you come out of this tunnel, they want to see some change in you... whatever it is, I'm not sure. You mustn't leave."
"But I'm afraid of the dark. It's spooky here."
Vitani grimaced. "Let Mother hear you whine like this, Kovu, and she'll have your tail!"
Vitani padded away. Over her shoulder she said, "If you're asleep before the fire dies, you won't be able to tell the difference."
After they departed, the thudding of his heart in his narrow chest and the rasping of his nervous breath were the only sounds he could pick up, the only thing to keep him company. Everything else was dead silence. He strained to hear his family, but for all he knew, he was miles away from them.
"I won't be afraid... I won't be afraid," he repeated over and over as he crouched down, shivering from terror and the chill from the ground that seeped in through his paws. The fur along his spine was standing on end and his tail was tucked close to his body.
I won't be afraid...
He tried following Vitani's suggestion, first by clenching his eyes tight to shut out the dark, but unable to also shut out the cold and the smells that persistently reminded him of where he was crouching. After some time, however, he was finding it difficult to stay awake. His mind was still set on edge, but somehow his muscles were able to relax enough to bring him a little peace. It had been a rough day of training with his mother, sister, and brother that had started before light and had ended at sunset. He opened his eyes for a moment to check the status of the flames before resting his chin on his dusty paws. He guessed he'd have plenty enough time to fall asleep before the smoldering fire went out completely.
Hopefully it won't wake me up then...
But just as he began to close his eyes to drift into sleep, he caught something when it shifted just within the edge of his sight. The flame from the dying fire flickered and danced. He looked up to the wall, gasped, and scrambled to his paws, nearly tumbling over his gangly limbs.
Its jaws gaped terribly and widened into a devilish grin. With thin legs, it danced on the wall like some demented marionette. It was monstrous and Kovu's first instinct was to run away, but he was held to that spot as if not by his own choosing.
He flicked his tail...
...and so did the shadow on the wall.
Half crouched, he paced up and down the length of the fire's cast light, his widening eyes following the movements of the shadow.
It did everything he did.
"What are you?" he whispered.
The jaws of the shadow moved both silently and in sync with Kovu's.
With a whimper, Kovu spun and turned his back on the terrible shadow and sat there for several moments, panting. He closed his eyes before reopening them and glancing over his shoulder to see that it was still looming behind him.
He swore that it was smirking at him as it laid there against the wall, hunched over as if it was observing him curiously.
Tears of shock and despair ran down the young heir's cheeks. He wanted to run, but somehow he couldn't find the strength, and he feared the wrath of his mother if he chose to disobey her. He knew he'd end right back in that spot no matter how much he begged and pleaded for her to protect him. She wouldn't believe him if he told her about the shadow, and even then she'd take it as some sort of sign of Scar's approval.
"Who am I really on the inside?" he whispered to himself once he accepted that the shadow was really his... somehow.
"What does everyone want me to become?"