I remember the day my life ended.
I wasn't killed but I was taken from everything important in my life. I had many things important to me; my loving wife Zira, my son Nuka, my young daughter Vitanni and another cub on the way. I had a pride with a kingdom that I took care of and it was blooming with a successful and bright future ahead. But then, an unfortunate course of events came along and it was taken. Or rather, I was taken from it
My wife Zira was the kindest lioness I knew and I loved her more than all the stars. It was windy the last time I saw her. "You shouldn't be hunting today," I advised worried for our unborn cub.
"Then who should?" She asked, rubbing up against me, "Dear, Jafari, I hunted with the last two cubs," she laughed, "Why should this cub be any different?"
"I'm not sure." She looked towards me, her eyes with that peaceful maternal glow she had with two the older cubs. "This one just seem to be special," I mused nuzzling my dear queen.
"If he is a boy, he should be named after my father," I suggested strongly. She liked that idea. "My father Kovu. If it is a girl, then after your mother."
"Because our daughter is named after your mother?" She asked with a sweet smile. I kissed her fervently; every kiss I laid upon her was nothing but love and affection. "No matter what this child shall be, the future will be wonderful, thanks to the generous King Taka. We will no longer have to worry about hyenas. So, as unfortunate as the late king's passing was, unlike his brother, King Taka promised to make sure we don't have to deal with them. It is thanks to him our herds have grown numerous and the heard migrating here has soared."
"Yes, considering the promise made by the Prideland's Pride. He won't shadow in his brother's pawprints." Zira nodded. That part was certainly true. You see the Prideland's Pride, and the Outland Pride has a very long history. It goes back to the time of our fathers' in the hyena war, that will be explained later. Let's just say, I smiled at the thought of being the father of two kings. "Speaking of pawprints, I should talk to my heir." I said and she nodded. "You will have to take his sister with you."
"I don't think she would let you leave without her." Zira said with a chuckle as she left, unknowing this would be the last time she saw me.
"Nuka," I called to my son. I came into the Outland Caves to see him playing roughly with Vatani. She saw me first stood excitingly and slowly made her way towards me. She was just learning to walk then, and could barely let out a roar. She was the sweetest princess if you ever saw one. Nuka, my son Nuka, was a very clever cub; the makings of a king ran through him.
"Yes, father?" Nuka asked smiling a big toddler grin coming from his little sister.
"Come, my son, we have much to do today. I am going to take you through our kingdom that I rule and that someday you will rule as well," I explained. Then I felt a tiny tugging on my tail.
I turned back to my daughter, her eyes glistening with desire, "You can come too, my princess." I smiled and licked Vatani's forehead tenderly. I grabbed the scruff of her neck in my teeth, then placed her on my back. I can still clearly remember the soft growls akin to a smaller cat's purrs she made when she rubbed her face against my mane.
"Father, she won't understand." Nuka pouted pointing out the obvious.
"But she will hear one day and understand but for now my son- for now she will just hear it," I told him. Nuka nodded and followed close beside me, trying to show his bravery. But he was nervous and afraid of the outer world that is Africa. We went through the tunnel going to the very top of the dome to overlook the entire Outlands.
"You see this?" I asked looking out over the greatly green pastures extending to the water hole. He nodded with excitement washing over his face, practically erasing his nervousness and fright. "This will all be yours one day. It may not be much land, but it is your land now. It was given to me by my father Kovu, and this was given to him by his father and so on through the generations. This land is not near as big as the other pride's but it is our land, Nuka. It is our Kingdom. You are to reign over it, and you are to show respect to it. You must take good care of it, and make sure everything is in good manner." Vatani let out a snort of laughter.
"And you dear daughter, will marry a king of another pride, and make allies with your brother's pride." The girl smiled at that, showing the little teeth she had. We walked down through the hunting grounds watching the herds graze.
"What about the Shadowlands?" Nuka asked as a look of fear came on him again.
"Those use to be the elephant graveyard. Let me tell you a story about your grandfather. King Kovu had much trouble with the hyenas and chased them into the Pridelands. However, King Ahadi would chase them back into the Outlands. So one day, your grandfather made a compromise with King Ahadi: instead of chasing them to our lands we would chase them to the graveyards. Then they will do the same and not chase them to the Outlands. The hyenas would just go there. But now, thanks to King Taka, that is no longer a problem."
"What did he do?" Nuka asked very intent on hearing the story.
"He got the hyenas away from our land," I explained to him happily. "So our herds can live freely."
"But don't we end up eating them?" Nuka asked confused.
"Yes, but they still have their importance. You see Nuka, when we die we become the green grass and the gazelle eat the grass. They then feed our children. It's called the circle of life, everything in it is important even down to the tiniest grass. Do you understand?"
He stared at me with a questioning look, and then opened his mouth once more, "Why is the grass important?"
I chuckled at his cub like attention span. "Because everything is important," I wanted to stress to him. "Even the tiniest grass makes the fattest pray. It is each drop that makes the water hole and it is the tiny stones that make our cave. When you are King you must remember your pride is what makes up the savannah. You must do your part in keeping your land safe so others may keep them safe." It was strange as I spoke my words; the words of my ancestors.
Suddenly a strange creature came up the path. Something I never seen before but that I would come to learn could destroy all in its path. I was shocked at how carless it seemed, to make noise scaring the groundhogs and causing the birds to flee. It drove out an entire herd of animals.
"Nuka, over here," I said putting him behind a rock and sat Vitani next to him.
"What is that?" Nuka asked once again fear trickling into his little face.
"I don't know. I never seen these things before," I tried explained to Nuka in a way that wouldn't frighten him. "I am going to tell it to leave. Whatever you do, do not make a sound. Do not give any sign you and your sister are here."
"I will father," Nuka said, frightened but obedient.
The creature stopped. It was definitely a strange creature. I thought I'd never seen a creature with such featherless wings, but it flapped them as soon as it saw me. I quickly came out from the large boulder that kept both of them hidden as I watched two strange creatures come from it. They were very odd. I've seen other like them but not like this. I didn't know this would be my fate.
The creatures stood tall on two legs. They walked confidently with strange silver trunks. And one was pointed right at me. I watched one creature with a large flashy thing pointing at me. The thing kept his trunk raised and I heard a poof sound come through the air. Than a strange feathery point came from out of it, flying directly into my leg. It stung with a sharp thorn. I wanted to get it out, but I couldn't reach it. I then started to feel weak and dizzy. No, that doesn't seem the adequate description. It was beyond weak making me feel faint. I called for Nuka to stay hidden as I felt my strength fading away. I couldn't move; I was paralyzed. I feared I was dying. I grew very tired my eyes refusing to stay open. I felt this rolling black tide wash over me as I fell into nothingness; falling asleep into a fate worse than death.
"Then you woke up in one of these, right Calvin?" Jack asked as he bounced once more in the bed of the truck in the small metal bush next to the lion.
"Yes," Calvin answered stiffly, truly hating that name. "And we were at this camp site if I recall."
"When did you meet my mother?" He asked out of curiosity with a smile of wonder.
"After they took me across the water desert, they took me to this place with…" Calvin sighed trying to explain it to him. He could not think of a nice way to describe to this young one that Jack's home was his prison.
"It wasn't that bad," Jack shrugged trying not to roll his eyes at Calvin. The zoo was nice enough but it didn't seem to be that was for Calvin. He was aged compared to the rest; he was something mysterious compared to the other lions in the zoo. Jack heard stories from his mother about his distant ancestor's life when they were that thing Calvin referred to, called free. The way Calvin described the savanna it was something of the Mysterious Beyond to Jack. It was a strange place that old lions dreamed about going to after death. But for some strange reason, they were there. It was like a dream. They had finally arrived in a place Jack thought to be a legendary plane. He could see the wild grass and the sun through the distant trees. He watched in disappointment as the humans gave them their meal in the clear box full of other hungry lions waiting for their turn. He wanted to eat freely in the open grasses.
"You're from there, aren't you?" Jack asked in awe looking to where the sun touched the ground gingerly as the skies surrounded it.
"Yes." Calvin answered with his head low. "Somewhere out there, there is a loyal king named Nuka, who doesn't know what happened to his father but only wishes. He takes care of his mother and tells his children our history. And when he does he will say his Father, the former king, was taken by the terrible monsters."
"Humans," Jack corrected, for what felt like the hundredth time. To him, humans were something to that controlled him. Humans were the creatures that came in masses to stare at him. They decided your fate. They where the creatures that gave him food, and water, and took care of him when he was ill. They were above him in rank, and if he didn't listen to them, there were consequences. He shivered at the thought but it was all he knew.
"Yes, and somewhere out there Queen Vitani is telling her husband to beware," Calvin explained with a mix sadness and frustration of not seeing his cubs, but with a smile in thinking of his successful offspring. "And somewhere there is another. Whether he is a King of the neighboring Pride Lands promised to him, or a lady of the Outland pride, being faithful to her brother and listening to the orders of the queen with her sisters, I do not know." He huffed with a deep guilt. "Strangely, these where the kind of stories that captured your mother."
"About this place?" Jack sighed looking out with a far off distant look in his eyes, "I can see why. Tell me about her."
"The humans called her Missy; she was with you when I first met her." Calvin explained looking at the young lion that seemed glad to be involved in one of his stories. "The stories awed her; her mother Lucy scolded me for telling her such things. She still wanted to listen. She asked me once to give her a name that would suit her best, like the names I gave my children."
"What did you call her?" Jack asked.
"Kesi, because she was born into a difficult life," Calvin said sadly. "I remember when we first met. She was coming back from a place the humans took her, and she was returning to the zoo." She was too young, Calvin thought to himself.
"What did she say about my father?" Jack question eagerly. Naturally he didn't know his father it being a lion the humans picked out for his mother to breed with. Calvin talked about the relations he had with his son Nuka and about his father growing up, knowing how strange that was for Jack. He talked about his wife beautiful Zira, and that was strange too.
"The humans picked him out, as soon as they found out you were in her womb they took her back. I thought she was too young to be having a cub, but the other lions didn't seem to think much of it." Calvin murmured softly with a shrug, knowing Jack wouldn't understand.
"How do they do things out there?" Jack asked, again full of questions.
"When you become of age, lionesses will present themselves to you. Sometimes they are of your pride; sometimes they are from the surrounding prides. One of them will stand out; one will seem to pull from the rest and she is the one that becomes your queen. She becomes the mother of your cubs that you will raise together. And you must always treat your beautiful wife with respect and deep love and affection. Nothing less." Calvin explained. As night crawled across the savanna, the humans where getting ready to sleep and expected them to the same.
Calvin hated that they had tried to make him breed in captivity. He was disgusted with the idea of having another cub he does not know about. He didn't like how humans viewed cubs as something they could process or use for entertainment. Almost like a product. They would give him young lionesses and sometimes they would be young enough to be his daughter. This horrified and disgusted him. He refused, considering Zira might be out there, waiting for him; hoping for him to return. He refused and eventually they made it so he couldn't have cubs. Yet, those three, wherever they are, they are waiting patiently for his return to them.
He did however take the responsibility of a father for Jack. As said before he had no father, and his mother died from a disease she caught from the herds of human who came to stare at her. It was after that Jack's grandmother lost her mind and attacked the humans who viewed them through the top of the fences. They did away with her after that, leaving Jack with no one. The humans never cared about that, nor his feelings.
"What did she say to you before she died?" Jack asked sadly almost hollowly.
"She made me promise something important," Calvin explained as he looked towards the moonlight thinking of the family he left behind. "Something that I am going to full fill now….Jack what did your mother say about the stars?"
"She told me that's where the lions go when they are free, and they watch over us, hoping one day we will join them safely and happily," Jack answered gazing in awe of the night sky as Calvin put his front paw on the fence pressing with all of his might until the first wire broke. He then raked his claws over the wires going through them one by one making a hole large enough for him to crawl through with his skinny body.
"That is where the kings are," Calvin corrected him as he jumped through hole.
"What are you doing?" Jack asked shocked at this sudden opportunity of escape. He started to follow him, but stopped at the hole. "The humans will kill you for doing these things," he hissed his warning.
"I am not attacking anyone," Calvin pointed out to him calmly. "Now, come."
"What?" Jack said as his eyes narrowed at the whole.
"Crawl through it, now." Calvin ordered and Jack slowly made his way out.
"The human's won't like this, Calvin," Jack whispered as they stepped out past their tents.
"What does it matter what they like? They've trapped us here" Calvin pointed out. "Now, we are going to run, and I mean run. You're going to have to keep up."
Jack nodded even though he had no idea what was going on. But he ran following the old lion. He was scared to let Calvin out of his sight, but as they ran Jack soon realize nothing was stopping their strange dash. There were no fences in this place. He could run for a week straight and be stopped by nothing. Even with the sudden freedom Jack followed him, scared of what unknown creatures ahead. Were their bears competing for more humans? Were the hyenas as friendly or like the ones in the stories? He did not know anything except for the stories Calvin had told him. Were there tigers? Jaguars? Cougars? Apes? He did not know. He just kept running and running until they came to a large water bin that sunk into the ground. Jack turned; his body froze at the emptiness. There was not a single fence or human in sight, making it so mysterious.
"Turn," Calvin ordered. Jack could no longer see the lights of humans nor the zoo that he had lived in for most of his life. It still puzzled him that there was not a single fence around this place. "What is this?" he smiled in wonder.
"A watering hole," Calvin answered as he smiled with the memories. "Drink."
"Calvin, where are we?" Jack looked around in amazement, practically shaking.
"My name is Jafari," the lion corrected as he pressed his paw against him.
"What was that for?" Jack turned shocked by the strange contact.
"I promised your mother if I made it out I would take you. I pressed my paw against you because you are now my son, I gave you life and as my son I have a right to name you. You will be called Kitwana. It means 'promised to life'."
"Kitwana," He said as he slowly almost frozenly looking at his reflection, with fear of what lies ahead as well as the hope of being without limits came across him at the same time.
"Now come; we have a long journey ahead." Jafari said sternly as they raced off into the night with hopes to find a family. Jafari's family.