I've pulled several all nighters until everything was set to perfection. I'd seriously appreciate some feedback on this third book. And don't tell me that I shouldn't worry about it! It took me three months to do Tale of Two Kings but six months to do Story of the Stars. I put twice as much time and thought and work into it! That's why I feel so bad! *Takes a deep breath* I'm good now…
Tau, the huge, almost completely black furred lion walked with his head held high as he entered the court. There were at least thirty pairs of eyes glaring daggers at him as he bowed his head down to the king of their pride.
Tau wasn't afraid of his fate even though he knew he was innocent, his only hope was that they would not punish the cub. Even if it was that cub that got him into this situation in the first place, he was a newborn.
"Raise your head, Tau!" boomed the king.
The younger lion did so and when he stood at his full height, the king swung his paw and smacked the large lion across the face. Tau had to hold back an angry growl lest he wanted to be executed on the spot. He had a few things to get out first before they did away with him.
"I see you haven't lost that massive strength to old age yet" Tau forced out with a smirk. He wasn't going to let this pride get the better of him.
The king snarled at him but held his rage back as much as he could; knowing that it would be unsightly for the king. Instead he slowly walked his way around the younger lion making sure to give him the idea that there was no escape. "I gave you the honor of marrying my daughter because you told me that you came from a line of pure black fur. But you and your family lied to me and this is the proof!" the king snapped.
This was a cue for a rather large lion to exit the den behind the king with a golden furred male cub in his mouth. The cub's eyes were squeezed shut which implied that he was only born not too long ago, a week ago most likely.
"…And how do you know that the cub's fur doesn't come from your lineage?" Tau asked smartly. "Furthermore, how do you even know that he's even my cub?"
There were a lot of murmurs coming from their audience but they weren't saying that the defendant had a point; rather, they were shocked he would even say such a thing. It was one thing to lie about yourself to marry into the royal family and become king, but it was an even greater crime to accuse a member of the royal family of unfaithfulness.
"You dare accuse my daughter of disloyalty?!" snarled the king. Tau backed away from the king's sharp and dangerous looking fangs.
"She has many lovers in this pride; the cub could be any one of theirs" suggested Tau coolly. "Besides, why must this pride revere dark fur so much? Is there something so wrong about having light colored fur?"
"Everyone in the royal family has had dark fur. It has been considered tradition, a gift from the Great Spirit ever since the first prince was born with black fur" the king said. "This is why the heir must be of that color! This is why I let my daughter marry you!"
"…Then go ahead and kill me…I'm sure my mother and my father will understand your selfishness and prejudice…"
The king laughed darkly as if the defendant had just said the funniest thing ever. "I wouldn't know that, maybe you should ask them yourself when you see them after your execution."
Tau's eyes widened as these words sunk in. "You…you murdered my family!" he snarled. He completely forgot about holding back any of his anger and was now growling ferociously.
"Getting a little mad now, aren't we?" chuckled the king. "I did that after my daughter told me that you were the one being unfaithful. You accuse her when you had a lover yourself? Despicable…Speaking of which, you won't be seeing that lover of yours either."
"You killed Kumi too?!"
"Was that her name? Well, I guess there's one member of your family left now. I guess it is appropriate, the cub didn't exist days ago and now his existence will end right before your eyes. Kill the cub!" the king shouted.
The large male that had brought the cub out laid him down in front of his paws and raised one of them up to bring it down and end his short life.
"No!" roared Tau, he barreled into the king, pushing him out of the way. He then head butted the large male lion and picked up the cub by the scruff of his neck. He turned around, prepared to run for the cub's life when he remembered that he was surrounded.
All of the lions growled as they slowly approached the defenseless lion. He looked for a way to escape when he noticed a single lioness gesturing for him to run past her. She was at the end of the semi-circle of lions, which meant that there was no one on her right.
Tau gave her an almost imperceptible nod and shot off. "After him!" ordered the king after he had recovered.
The rest of the pride gave chase to the fleeing lion but only the lioness that had assisted him went in another direction. She knew where to find him and knew that she wouldn't be followed. She stopped in front of a fallen tree that blocked the entrance to a clearing in the jungle. "Tau?" she whispered just in case.
"Imara?" Tau replied. His popped up from behind the log and he glared at her. "That was an incredibly risky move, what if you get punished when you return because somebody saw you? I can't bear the thought of losing someone else."
Imara rolled her eyes. "Calm down, we've been friends since we were cubs of course I'd risk my life for you. And I know that no one followed me. Listen, there's not much time, I'm going to pretend I never saw you so the king will think that we lost you. But you need to get to someplace safe, follow the rising sun and you'll soon reach the Eastern Kingdom. King Simba will keep you safe for a while."
Tau nodded as he picked up the cub but then he stopped and looked back at the lioness. "Come with me. You can't stay here, not while that tyrant of a king is ruling. We can start a new life somewhere else…"
She shook her head with a sad smile. "Thanks for the offer but my family needs me here. We'll always have our memories of each other and I'll find a way to visit you someday. But you need to go; you don't have a second to waste."
"Just…Please stay safe…Okay?"
"No problem…And hey, I'm sorry about your family. I didn't know that they had been killed until the news spread this morning. And as for Kumi…I tried to protect her but I failed…" sniffed Imara.
"It's fine, everything will be just fine."
" But what about the cub? He's not yours but…"
"He's not mine but you know I have a soft spot for cubs. I can't leave him back there to be killed and he needs a father figure. I'll watch over him until he's old enough to be on his own…Goodbye Imara, I hope to see you again someday" said Tau softly as he gave her a friendly nuzzle.
"You will…Now go."
Tau gave one final nod before picking up the cub again and running off. Imara sighed softly and walked wiped away her tears before going back to fake searching for her friend. It was hard to lose two friends in an instant but she hoped to at least see one of them again someday.
Kula stared at her reflection in the clear pond in the thick jungle. Ever since she decided to stay in the Western Kingdom, she had been having a ton of difficulty adjusting. She found this place to be a safe haven for her to be alone with her thoughts although one lion seemed to have found his way to her hiding spot.
"I thought I'd find you here" Chaka said quietly as he approached the lone lioness.
Kula turned around on the rock and then rolled over so that she was lying on her back. Her head was thrown back so that she could look at him…upside down. "You'd think a lioness could get some privacy in a kingdom as large as this one."
He chuckled lightly to himself as he seated himself next to her. "Well, too bad, I'm here to bug you and that's that." She scoffed a bit obnoxiously but he knew that she didn't mean it. "So what are you doing here anyway? You've been in this pride for at least five months and you still haven't gotten used to it?"
She shook her head. "I'm used to the pride; I'm just not used to the freely roaming hyenas and the scent of the ocean. And I guess…I'm kind of disappointed…"
"Disappointed? About what?"
"…I stayed in this pride…hoping to get the attention of somebody…Now don't you dare say anything! I don't love this particular somebody but…I don't know…I was expecting something more to come out of our relationship."
Chaka stared at her as she remained silent with her thoughts. He sighed as he pondered about what he should say next when he saw her turn over and stare at her reflection once more.
"Maybe…Maybe this particular somebody has a lot on his mind and he's scared of what might happen. Maybe he's never experienced anything like this and…He can't find the right words to express how he feels. He's afraid that if he chooses the wrong words…They'll be apart forever…" he told her without making eye contact.
The two felines stared at their reflections wondering on what the next thing to be said should be. "Well…Does he want that to be…it? Nothing but what they already have?" she asked, sounding a bit scared of what the answer might be.
"Then I guess…either I or he has to take that first step."
"I suppose so…"
They both glanced at each other before finally gaining the courage to look each other in the eyes. Kula wondered how any lion, scratch that, any creature in the entire world could possibly do this sort of thing without freaking out.
"…Chaka…" Kula started. "When I decided to stay here instead of going back to the Pride Lands, it was originally because I figured that there was no way my brother would return there. So instead, I wanted to stay here because…" she faltered a bit but was able to pick it up. "…I had some mixed feelings that I wanted to sort out."
Chaka took a deep breath before delivering his reply. "Well…Have you sorted them out yet?"
"I…I think so…"
"Well…I felt happy when you told me that you were going to be staying here and I honestly didn't know why at first. But as time went by…I figured it out…I think…"
"I love you" they both said simultaneously.
They stared at each other for a long time before Chaka wrapped an arm around her and pulled the lioness towards him. She pressed her face into his chest and listened to his steady heartbeat and felt his warm and fluffy mane.
"I wish I had told you this sooner…I really do love you" Chaka whispered into her ear. "I never felt this way about anybody before…"
Kula laughed a little although it came out a little muffled. "You don't need to be all mushy…But you should know that I've never loved anyone like I do with you. There's just so much that had happened over the past few months and…I was confused. But not anymore…I want to spend the rest of my life with you…"
"Well, look who's being mushy now…But…Kula…Would you like to be my mate?"
"Did you not here my mushy little speech? Of course I will..."
Thimba rubbed his eyes in a failed attempt to get rid of the tiredness he felt. He had been up all night making sure that Hasani didn't work himself to death. The older lion was constantly checking up on different units and ordering around subordinates that he had completely forgotten to take care of himself.
It was getting closer to the day everything would change so Thimba could understand his superior's stress but that didn't mean he had the right to worry the younger lion every second of the day.
"You know he doesn't need you breathing down his neck all the time, right?" an obnoxiously familiar voice snickered.
"Leave me alone Jet, you know it was better when you acted seriously, your true colors are very unsightly" Thimba scoffed, brushing off the cheetah.
The cheetah ran around the lion to cut him off from entering Hasani's den. "Look kid, I'm just worried about you. The way you just cling on to the boss; now that's unsightly. If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were his lovesick mate. Listen, we're all expendable to him despite what he says, it's true that he wants equality, I don't doubt that, but why does he call all the shots, hm?"
"Because they're his dreams" Thimba retorted as he pushed Jet out of the way. "When all of this is over and we claim victory, that's when all creatures can do whatever they like as much as they please. Just wait for your turn and don't mess with me!"
"Cranky today aren't we? Fine, whatever."
Thimba entered the den and saw Hasani sprawled out on the floor. His superior had clearly caught a fever and tried to do something productive but only ended up passing out on the floor. Thimba sighed as he helped the older male up and the placed him down in a more suitable position.
"Hasani…I think we need to postpone the Phase One of our plan" Thimba sighed.
Somehow, Hasani had heard this and his eyes shot open. He attempted to sit up but only failed and fell into an immobile heap. "We can't wait any longer, we have everything we need and I'm not physically needed for Phase One."
"But there's no telling when it will be completed and you need to be well by the time it is finished so that we can commence Phase Two. We need you as our leader Hasani, not as a liability, so listen to me and rest."
"But I…I can't do that! I can't just lie here while the world is in chaos!"
"The world's survived so far; a few more days can't hurt. Listen to me, you've taken care of me ever since I joined you but you've never given me the chance to pay you back. Now it's my turn to take care of you."
Hasani nodded as he rested himself back into his comfortable position. But as he was left in silence for a while he had to ask. "Have you forgotten yet, Thimba?"
The younger lion looked up, he appeared to be genuinely confused. "About what?"
"I once asked you if you had any regrets about leaving your pride…You told me that you didn't really have any but I told you that I knew more about you than you wanted me to" Hasani said quietly, but it was still enough for his companion to hear. "One of your regrets was that you were in love with someone back in your pride. I was wondering if you had forgotten that someone."
Thimba's expression darkened as he thought about what his superior was saying. "No…I haven't and I won't ever forget but…I know I can move on. I'm over it, believe me, right now what's important is what you want, not what I wanted."
"…Thank you Thimba, you are a true friend."
"It's so strange we just saw each other nearly a week ago and here we are meeting again" chuckled Malka as he gave King Simba a friendly hug.
"I'm glad to see you to. Actually, I had a message for Kula and Tama so I was wondering if you could deliver it to them for me" Simba told him.
They were all together along with King Kanu of the Northern Kingdom and they had just seen Mheetu's coronation. They had been invited to a feast as well later that night to celebrate the crowning of the new king.
"Hello, you must Nala, Mheetu's sister" smiled an unfamiliar lioness as she approached the queen of the Pride Lands. "It's an honor to meet you, I happen to be Mheetu's mate, Hatia."
"Oh, yes, I'm happy to meet you too" said Nala, returning the new queen's pleasant smile. "I'm sorry if I'm being a bit informal but I'm still a bit shocked. For years my brother hadn't returned home and search parties always came up empty so we just assumed the worst. I never would've imagined I would get to see him again and as a king of one of the Great Kingdoms no less!"
Hatia smiled to show that she understood how her sister-in-law felt. "I can take you to Mheetu if you want. Actually, I'm supposed to escort the rulers of the Great Kingdoms' to him anyway. But before that, Nala, I want you to meet my daughter, Ashanti."
A small cub who looked as if she was born about a month ago or so toddled over to the two lionesses. She looked almost exactly like her tawny colored mother except she had bright blue eyes instead of dark brown.
"Hello!" the cub piped up.
"Your daughter? So does that mean…?" started Nala.
Hatia shook her head to show that her sister-in-law was wrong. "Ashanti isn't Mheetu's cub. I was impregnated by a rogue and then found my way here where I met Mheetu. We fell in love and I had Ashanti but she isn't related to Mheetu or you."
"I see, well it's a pleasure to meet you Ashanti."
"Anyway, if all of you could just follow me."
Hatia picked up Ashanti by the scruff of her neck and led the other rulers into a den that was lit by several torches and a naturally elevated platform in the center of the cave. There were all sorts of food lying on the elevated platform along with leaf bowls containing water.
"Quite the banquet hall" Malka commented.
When each and every one of them had been seated, Mheetu and the leader of the high council both came in from a different entrance. There was a pleasant stamping of paws to show applause and express congratulations.
"It is a true honor to stand before you all as the new king of the Southern Kingdom" smiled Mheetu. "But this is even more important than that. This is also the night…I am reunited with my dear sister who I never stopped thinking about since my exile."
"It is so good to see you again Mheetu" sniffed Nala as he brother approached her and gave her a hug. "I've missed you so much…"
"You say that as if I didn't" Mheetu chuckled. "Hey don't cry sis, this is supposed to be a happy moment."
"I know…" she smiled as she rubbed the tears out of her eyes. "These are tears of joy not sadness, it wasn't too long ago when I found out my dead son was alive and now I'm seeing you…Someone I thought I had lost years ago."
"I heard about that."
"The last time I saw you, was when you were a newborn cub. It's been too long Mheetu" Simba greeted. "And now you're the new king of the Southern Kingdom, life sure is full of surprises."
"Well I'm afraid I don't remember you much Simba but thank you for liberating the Pride Lands of Scar's tyrannical rule" Mheetu bowed to him. "And that reminds me, there is one lion here who you may recognize."
The leader of the high council stepped forward and smiled towards the Eastern Kingdom king. "Hello Simba."
"Tojo?" breathed Simba. "I can't believe it! It's really you Tojo!"
Simba and Tojo gave each other a friendly hug as they laughed together. "It's been years and you too Nala, it's been far too long."
"Tojo took care of me after Scar had banished me" Mheetu explained.
"Then I owe you my eternal gratitude Tojo" smiled Nala.
The feast went on with smiles and pleasantries until somewhere near the end. King Kanu of the Northern Kingdom cleared his throat to bring all their attention to him. "Like Mheetu had said in the beginning of this feast, this is a joyous occasion. However, I have news that may not sound all too pleasant. I'm afraid Hasani is still at large and I cannot control him, who knows what he may do."
"I see, I guess that cannot be helped" Simba sighed.
"Hasani…Was he the lion that had messed with the hyenas and caused them to turn against my pride?" asked Malka.
"I'm afraid so" nodded Simba.
"Who is this Hasani?" asked Mheetu.
"He's an incredibly dangerous rogue who caused major problems in the Eastern and Western Kingdom" Kanu explained. "He was once a part of my kingdom and I am ashamed to say that it is partially my fault for his actions. I'm afraid that I have influenced him into thinking that a world where all animals can live peacefully and equally is possible."
"It is not your fault" Nala interjected.
Malka nodded in agreement. "And even though you say it is not possible, I think it may be. It may not be perfect but we can at least all get along instead of living in constant fear and distrust with each other. After all, that's what has happened with the hyenas and lions in my kingdom."
"Aside from that, I think we should form a strong alliance with each other since we're all good friends" said Simba. "If we do that, we'll be able to stay prepared and hopefully none of us will fall to his clutches."
"Right, so we just keep each other notified of any suspicious activity, correct?" inquired Mheetu.
"Exactly, we cannot let him get the better of us."
After all the rulers had agreed on this, Tojo stood up to make sure that all their attention was turned on him. "For the health and safety of our kingdoms, we pay our respects to the kings above and the Great Spirit" he said.
"To the Great Kings and Queens of the past and to a happy future!" they all said together.