"Whatever you do, don't trust Scar."
"Why not mother? Does he still want to be king?"
"Of course he wants to be king. Of course he does; his mother brought him up to be king. He still loves her."
"How can he still love her and yet do that to his own brother?"
"And maybe his own father… think on that."
"Oh come on... how can he love her?"
"Sarabi, you'll find out soon enough; when it's your time. You always love your mother… even you."
That sound, those calls: so empty. They fall through me still. Most evenings he calls as if he were his father; still standing there, still calling. No one answers. I don't. I still want to: to go to him, to be with him, but it's too late. Our time has past. We'll soon see him, as we get out these trees; the moon silvering his mane. The stars looking down; a new one somewhere now.
"Look, he's calling for you."
No, he's calling to other nearby lions, claiming his territory, placing the borders of the Pridelands.
"He's waiting up there. He's not been with any other lioness. He's waiting for you. Go to him."
"Yes Sarabi, go."
"Mother, Saffi: you two go on ahead."
"Come on Sarafina, let's go home"
"We're not getting any younger Sassi. We ought to have had cubs by now, both of us. Ahadi is gone, and your mother and mine have had their time; this is ours. It's not as if you can say you hate Mufasa, can you?"
"Please Saffi; I just want to be on my own for a while."
"Come on Sarafina! It's getting chilly out here!"
"Yes Narala. I'm coming…. Don't stay out too late: I don't know how much more 'advice' on hunting from your mother I can take."
Just go. Leave me. He'll stop in a bit, and then I'll be along. It's such a lovely night I'll just sit here for a while. "Yes."
It is a beautiful night. There's only one thing that could make it better, and he's standing on that rock. I could go to him now, but what do I say? Anyway, in my state I wouldn't have to say a lot, he'd get the idea pretty quick, or else he's not the lion I thought he was. Aaach no, who am I kidding? Now can I? After everything that's happened? How can I? Go home Sassi, go home.
Saffi's trying to be kind. Mother… well, she's just being mother. Not sure what she means by Scar… He wasn't anywhere near Ahadi apparently… so he says. Who's to know?
Oh, he's not there anymore! Stopped calling for the night I suppose. I can just slip by now, keeping far out of sight. I can slip up the ridge, along the far side. He'll not see me now, no one will.
Mother and Saffi got away easily; where are they now? Did they stay on the rock's side of the ridge? Why hide? I can go along the top, in the moonlight. Just up here a bit, round that scrub, and…
There he is! Downslope, looking lost damn it. Why? What should I do? I should go home, and save Saffi, but should I? He sees me, he knows I'm here. I can't pretend I haven't seen him. Anyway, it is a beautiful night, and he's, well, looking very… he's Mufasa, of course he's liony, he's a lion.
How? How to do this? What is he expecting? I know he's expecting that, that's not the point. How do I? Ooh, how? Go to him. Be with him. Move closer: still lengths off. He's looking. He's looking to the stars! No, now he's looking at me; his eyes soft and big. His ears ringed with moonlight. His mane floating in the pool of stars. Closer. No words.
He wants a queen. He wants a proper queen. He wants Sarabi, not Sassi. So be Sarabi. Head up, tread deliberately. Say nothing. Go to him. Closer.
He can smell me by now. He knows… he knows. He's smiling gently, lovingly, longing for me. Closer. Close.
"Sarabi… err I… I mean... it's a lovely night isn't it?"
"Yes." Did I just say yes? Oh I mean… no, I don't know what I mean. I know what I want.
"I know you said you'd tell me when you were ready to see me. I shouldn't have come. I'm sorry. I know how much you value your independence: that you're your own lioness."
"Don't go Mufasa." Sarabi, be Sarabi. Press against him, shoulder to shoulder. Move on, slip alongside him, flank to flank. "No Mufasa: after sunset…" Lift hindquarters up a little. He'll get the message. "…I'm your lioness."
Really cool? Hmm, what's he up to? Nowhere's cool in this weather, certainly not this rock now the shade's moved off. Ah well, what trouble can he get up to at his age? "So where is this 'really cool' place?"
"Oh. Uh... around the waterhole."
Waterhole? And I'm a hippo's mother… but I was a bit like that once.
"The waterhole? What's so great about the water hole?"
That's Nala, just like your mother Saffi.
"I'll show you when we get there."
Waterhole… OK, not so bad. I can live with that, but not on their own.
"Oh…Uh... Mom, can I go with Simba?"
"I don't know, weren't there hyenas running around this morning? What do you think Sarabi?"
You've got a point there, and yes, you can get in to trouble at the waterhole. Maybe it's not such a good idea after all, but it is just the waterhole. "It's alright with me." So… ah yes, I know, someone to accompany them, but who? I know, but they're not going to like this,"…as long as Zazu goes with you."
Neither do! They'll be back soon enough, sooner now, and there's a silver lining. There they go, so keen and full of life. For their sakes' I just hope Zazu doesn't mention anything. He's on his last chance: he'd better not get all "traditional" on Simba. There's no way I'm forcing any cub of in mine into anything like that; he'll have to choose for himself, when the time comes.
"Nala, you just had a bath! Try and stay clean for once!"
No chance of that. Anyway, you call that a bath? I call it about the only way I'll get to have my son in my paws for a moment. We'll only have to do it all again: it's not so much a waterhole at the moment, more a mud wallow.
"Zazu? What use is he, Sarabi? At the first sign of trouble he just goes flapping back to Mufasa"
"Yes he does, doesn't he?" Why not let Fluffy deal with something for a change? "But just in case, how about us doing a bit of prey watching?"
"Prey watching eh? Yes, why not Sarabi?"
I'll forgive you for thinking that this is a first person present story. However, that's not really true. It's a third person past tense story. I can hear you ask: "How can that be? Tell me it's not so" but that's what it is.
The reason is that Sarabi is not the narrator. She's not aware that we - you the readers and I the writer - are there. She's not telling us the story. She's totally unaware that we are there seeing her world through her eyes and hearing her, in some case most intimate, thoughts. This story does have a narrator, a common or garden third person one, it's that there is so little narrative: the story is overwhelmingly told through thoughts and dialogue – that you may have missed it, but it's there none the less.
Stories without narrators, or with almost absent narrators, are rare. I've never seen or read one. I can't think of any, published or otherwise. In true first person stories the character in question is knowingly telling us the story, in various ways, but they are always aware of the reader and tell the reader the story. Here Sarabi doesn't do that. We're just eavesdropping on her.
I wanted to try this rather unusual form as in "The Huntress at Sunset" I used a very tight point of view on the main character, Nengwalamwe, being able to at times hear his thoughts. I used a looser point of view for the other characters, never able to get inside their heads. This story takes that idea to its logical conclusion: the point of view for almost the entire story is inside Sarabi's head, only drifting out for occasional paragraphs.
This presents a few problems. Conventional first and third person stories can indicate who is talking by the normal "so-and-so said". Sarabi cannot do that so the dialogue has to stand on its own. The characters need to be recognisable through their speech patterns alone. Even Sarabi fairly rarely names characters in this story, just as I do in real life.
Another issue is that point of view: we see the story through Sarabi's eyes, and only through her eyes. Anything that she cannot see happens necessarily "off stage". We cannot know much about anyone's motivation other than Sarabi, and I deliberately left a lot out: after all she deserves to keep some secrets. That though allowed exploration: who was she and how did she get the way she was? Was she always dignified and poised, or was she more of a swan: calm and serene on the surface but paddling away furiously underneath? I ended up making her more swan-like that I had originally intended, mainly to give a more interesting story while keeping what she does say, as opposed to think, as in character as possible.
One other problem is would I be able to pass myself off convincingly as a young adult lioness when I am a middle-aged human male. I don't know whether I succeeded. Clearly I have had to base Sarabi's thoughts on my own. I, like all of us, can never know how anyone else thinks. Maybe one day it will be possible, but I don't expect it in my lifetime.
The form is one that would be very difficult, if not impossible to film. It would possibly work as on the radio, though that would require a very skilled actor to be able to make Sarabi's thoughts and spoken words separate and distinct. It's just that if it works, it works through the unique characteristics of writing. To be a Queen is a written story, it's unlikely to work in any other medium.