The Pride That Never Was
A story based on the early versions of The Lion King II: Simba's Pride
The tiny, golden lion cub lay cradled in the elderly mandrill's arms and blinked sleepily at the two adoring faces that gazed down at it. The faces belonged to the cub's parents. The tawny, red-maned male was Simba, the long-lost son of Mufasa who had only recently returned to his homeland to take his rightful place as the king of the Pride Lands. The cream-colored, green-eyed female was Nala, who was once Simba's cubhood friend and was now his queen.
The mandrill that held the cub was Rafiki, the aged shaman who had just completed a ritual that had been in existence for as long as the pride had existed: when the son of the king was born, he was to be held aloft at the peak of Pride Rock -- the massive rock formation where all the members of the pride resided -- for all the animals of the Pride Lands to see.
As for the cub himself, he was Chaka, Simba and Nala's firstborn cub and the future king of the Pride Lands. However, Chaka was not the royal couple's only cub. In the large cave inside Pride Rock, curled up in the paws of Nala's mother, Sarafina, was their daughter, Shani. Since she was the king's daughter, she would need to be educated in the ways of maintaining a kingdom just as much as Chaka, even though she would never be burdened with as many responsibilities as the future king.
Preparing a young cub for such a prestigious position was undoubtedly a difficult task, and Simba hoped that he would be able to perform it with at least some success. Since his own education in that area was almost nonexistent, he wondered whether what little he knew would be enough raise a worthy heir to the throne. However, it wasn't just the prospect of teaching Chaka and Shani that worried him. There was something else that bothered him as well, something that he feared might somehow jeopardize the futures of both his family and his homeland...
The bright mid-morning sun sent glowing shafts of light through the many clouds that dappled the azure sky. The grasses of the savannah were a rich, verdant green, and the many trees that dotted it were crowned with thick bunches of leaves.
Several months had passed since Chaka's presentation at Pride Rock. He and Shani had grown into healthy, playful cubs that seemed to constantly be in motion from sunrise to sunset. As Simba and Nala slowly padded through the tall grass, their cubs trotted briskly alongside them, occasionally stopping to chase a nearby butterfly or locust.
Chaka and Shani weren't the only cubs walking with Simba and Nala, however. A third cub named Timira was with them. She was a few days younger than Simba and Nala's cubs, and she had quickly become their favorite playmate. Even though the outing Simba and Nala were currently on was one meant for Chaka and Shani, Simba had granted little Timira permission to accompany them, as long as she behaved herself.
"All right, this looks like a good place to stop," Simba announced, coming to a halt on a small hill shaded by a large acacia tree. He settled into a sitting position as Chaka, Shani and Timira came padding up to him. Nala searched for a comfortable spot a short distance away from them, where she dropped onto her haunches, then slowly flopped onto her side.
"What're you gonna tell us today, Dad?" Chaka asked with genuine curiosity.
Simba smiled at him. Chaka looked very much like Simba did when he was a cub, only Chaka's eyes weren't red, but pale green, like his mother's and his maternal grandmother's.
"Chaka," said Simba gently, "When you are king, you must remember that while there are times when it is important to be gentle, there are also times when you must be forceful. You've got to know when to show mercy and when to be harsh."
"You mean..." Chaka said, glancing down at his paws for a moment, "Sometimes I'll have to fight other animals?"
Simba paused, carefully considering his response.
"Yes," he said firmly, "I won't lie to you, Chaka. Being a king can be dangerous, and there are times when you will have to fight, but you shouldn't be afraid. The better a king you are, the better you'll be at winning fights. And remember that you won't be alone, either. You'll have the entire pride at your side to help you."
"And me too, right, Dad?" Shani interjected.
"Yes," he said. "You too."
Simba suddenly glimpsed a movement out of the corner of his eye. Zazu, the small, vividly colored hornbill that served as Simba's majordomo, alighted on the king's shoulder. Simba turned to face him.
"A little late for the morning report, aren't you?" Simba smirked.
"My apologies, Sire," the bird said, ruffling his feathers agitatedly. "Those infernal monkeys in that grove by the river would simply not stop informing me about every piffling thing that was bothering them -- and frankly, I think they were making up most of their grievances just to provoke me. And as for that pack of jackals to the north, they were -- "
"Could you wait until we're through with this lesson first, Zazu?" Simba asked.
Zazu sighed exasperatedly.
"Very well, Sire," he muttered.
Simba turned back to the three cubs.
"Now where were we?" he asked.
"You were talking about how Chaka would have to fight things when he's the king," Timira said eagerly.
Timira was darker than Chaka and Shani -- in fact, she was darker than nearly every other lion in the pride, save for her mother, Masika. Her fur was a warm, smoky grey color, but her eyes were a vivid, fiery amber, and at times her personality seemed equally fiery.
"Ah, right," Simba said. "But Chaka won't always have to fight other animals. There will be many times when he can solve a problem without having to lay a paw on his enemy. For example, those monkeys Zazu was just talking about: Do you think you'll have to start fighting those monkeys to make them stop squabbling, Chaka?"
Chaka shook his head.
"That's right. What do you think is the best way to stop them from squabbling?"
Chaka glanced skyward, deep in thought.
"Um...I'd talk to them," he finally said.
"That's a good start," said Simba. "But what if they didn't listen to you and kept on chattering?"
"Uh, I'd...I'd shout at them," Chaka said, more confidently this time.
"Good, but what if even that didn't work? What would you do then?"
Chaka paused again. When he didn't say anything for a few moments, Timira leaned slightly in his direction and started whispering something out the side of her mouth. Since Shani was standing between them, Simba doubted that Chaka could hear her, and though he himself couldn't hear what she was saying at first, he soon heard, very faintly, the words, "Roar! Roar!"
"Timira!" Simba said sternly. Timira stopped whispering and stood up straight, though her ears were now drooping with shame. Zazu glared disapprovingly at her.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly.
"What did I tell you about coming with Chaka and Shani for their lesson?" Simba said.
"To be good," Timira said in a tiny voice.
Simba nodded, then turned back to Chaka.
"So what would you do to really get the monkeys' attention, Chaka?"
"I'd roar at them," Chaka said brightly.
"Very good," Simba said, giving Timira a brief, irritated glance to tell her that he hadn't forgotten about her. "Sometimes, a roar is all it takes to make any animal stop what it's doing and pay attention to you. But you've got to remember..."
Simba trailed off in mid-sentence. He had become aware of a low, thundering noise coming from somewhere off in the distance. He stared in the direction that the sound was coming from, and the three cubs turned around to see what he was looking at. The source of the thundering was a huge dust cloud that seemed to be storming across the plains, rapidly approaching them.
The dust cloud drew nearer and nearer, and the thundering noise became so loud that the ground beneath the lions began to shake. Then, just as the cloud was about to enter the shade beneath the acacia tree, there was a skidding sound and the thundering ceased. After a few seconds, the dust cloud cleared, revealing a large rhinoceros, grunting and wheezing in an attempt to catch its breath
Perched on the rhino's head was another hornbill, but unlike Zazu, it was a female. Her feathers were a bright sky blue, and clutched in her right foot was a long, straight stick with a few leaves still clinging to the end.
Simba recognized her at once. It was Binti, a beautiful, free-spirited young hornbill whose favorite hobby was riding rhinos. As Simba looked at her, he felt Zazu tremble slightly as he perched on his shoulder. The king managed to suppress a smirk.
"Greetings, Your Highness," Binti chirped happily. "And good day to you, Nala. And you too, Chaka, Shani, Timira."
She paused, then glanced up at Zazu.
"Oh!" she said in surprise. "Sorry, Zazu, I didn't notice you there!"
"Quite all right, madam, quite all right," Zazu said. Though Simba could tell the hornbill was trying to maintain his dignified air, there was still a nervous tremor in his voice that couldn't be ignored.
"What have you been up to today?" Binti asked casually.
"Oh, the usual," Zazu said, shifting his weight uneasily on Simba's shoulder. "Investigating disputes, searching for any trouble lurking about the Pride Lands...you know, the usual...stuff."
The three cubs had become acutely aware of how odd the normally stern, unflappable Zazu was suddenly acting. They stared quizzically, first at him, then at Binti, then back at him again. Shani was the first to speak:
"Uh...Zazu, what's the matter?"
Zazu instantly changed back into his normal snooty self.
"Nothing, Princess," he snapped defensively. "Nothing at all is the matter."
"But why were you stammering and shaking so much just then?" Shani asked.
"No reason," Zazu said shortly. "And it's rude to keep pestering your elders with questions, Princess."
"I know why you were acting like that," said Timira with a sly grin.
Shani and Chaka both gazed expectantly at her while Zazu glared coldly at the dark little cub.
"You're in love with Binti, aren't you?"
Both Shani and Chaka burst out laughing and Simba and Nala found themselves unable to keep from snickering as well. All Binti did was glance downward and smile bashfully.
"Nonsense! Utter nonsense!" Zazu squawked. "She and I are acquaintances, nothing more!"
"Zazu has a girlfriend!" Timira chanted. "Zazu has a girlfriend!"
"Impudent child!" Zazu huffed.
"Have you started building a nest yet?" Chaka giggled.
"When can we see the eggs?" Shani asked.
Zazu shut his eyes and covered his face with his wings for a moment.
"All right, you nosy little urchins!" he burst out. "If you want the truth, I'll give it to you: I have become rather fond of the young Miss Binti, but I would certainly not go as far to as to say that she is my 'girlfriend', as you put it, and I certainly doubt that she and I will be building a nest anytime soon."
"He's gonna marry Binti," Timira chanted, completely oblivious to Zazu's words.
Zazu angrily ruffled his feathers.
"Well, I suppose that makes us even, then," he stormed.
Timira stopped chanting and stared up at Zazu, looking puzzled.
"What do you mean, Zazu?"
Zazu had suddenly become flustered again, and for some reason, Simba was giving him the same look he had given Timira when she misbehaved.
"Nothing," he stammered. "Nothing at all. Forget I even brought it up."
"Come on, Zazu," Timira insisted, "what do you mean, 'that makes us even?'"
"I tell you, it's nothing! It's of no consequence to you at all."
"But Zazu -- "
Simba sighed and shook his head.
"I guess we'll have to tell them now," he muttered.
"I'm terribly sorry, Sire," Zazu said meekly. "I didn't mean to let it slip."
"Let what slip?" Chaka asked.
Simba looked solemnly down at the three cubs.
"Chaka," he said to his son, "You and Timira were betrothed shortly after you were born. When you two are old enough, you will be married."
There was an empty silence for a few moments, then Chaka and Timira flinched and stared at each other, making noises of disgust. Shani stared in mute shock at her brother, then at Timira.
"But I don't wanna marry Chaka!" Timira protested.
"Yeah, me neither," Chaka chimed in. "I mean -- I don't wanna marry Timira!"
"I know," Simba said gently, faintly remembering his and Nala's reactions to hearing the news that they were betrothed. "You may not like the idea at first, but that's just the way things are in this pride. Just give it time. You may not want to marry each other now, but things might just change later."
He glanced over at Nala, who smiled warmly at him.
They certainly did for us, he thought.
Shani began to grow more and more fidgety as Simba's lecture continued. Simba had started talking to Chaka and Timira about what duties were required of the king and queen, and she was starting to feel left out. Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer.
"Dad, can I please go and play with Timira?" she pleaded.
Simba gazed thoughtfully at her.
"Well, Shani, you have been very patient during this lesson, and I've done a lot of talking, so I think it's okay if we called it a day."
Shani eagerly sprang to her feet and Timira trotted to her side.
"Great! You wanna come play too, Chaka?"
Chaka shook his head.
"Maybe later," he said.
Shani rolled her eyes.
"Whatever you say," she said. "C'mon, Timira, I'll race you to that rock!"
"Hold it," Simba said, putting a paw out to stop Shani. "I don't want you two running around the Pride Lands on your own."
"But Dad -- " Shani protested.
"I don't want you two getting in trouble," Simba said. "I got into all kinds of trouble when I was a cub, and I don't want the same thing to happen to you."
He turned to Zazu, who was still perched on his shoulder.
"Zazu, would you mind keeping an eye on these two?"
"Certainly, Sire," Zazu said, launching himself into the air.
"Um, Simba," Nala said, "don't you think we should have someone else go with Shani and Timira besides Zazu?"
Simba frowned, then nodded, recalling how easy it had been for him and Nala to evade Zazu when he was watching them when they were little. Perhaps two cubs could escape from one guardian, but what if...
"Binti," Simba said, addressing the female hornbill who still sat perched upon her rhino's head, "Would you mind accompanying Zazu?"
Zazu's eyes boggled. He stared at Binti, who stared back, then modestly dropped her eyes.
"Oh," Binti gasped, "Why...why sure. I mean, no, I wouldn't mind. Anything to be of service, Your Highness."
She looked down at the huge, leathery beast she sat upon.
"Is it all right if I bring Winston along as well?"
"Why not?" Simba smiled. "Three pairs of eyes are better than two."
"Then let's go," Binti chirped. She gently flicked the side of the rhino's head with her stick.
"Come on, Winston! Let's get moving!"
The rhino grunted, then started lumbering away from the acacia, with the two lion cubs trotting after it. Zazu started to follow them, but Simba called him back.
"Make sure they stay safe," he said quietly to Zazu. "These lands may be even more dangerous than they were when my father was king."
"Agreed, Sire," Zazu said. "Fear not, I'll guard those two with my life if the occasion calls for it."
With that, he flitted off towards the vast, lumbering bulk of Winston the rhino and the bright blue vision that sat perched on his head.
After his lumbering hoof-beats were no longer audible, there was a pause in which the only sound to be heard was the whisper of wind in the grass. Then Chaka broke the near-silence with a single word:
"Hmm?" Simba murmured.
"What did you mean when you said these lands may be more dangerous?"
Simba looked at the tiny, green-eyed reflection of himself that stared inquisitively up at him.
"Do you really want to know, Chaka?" he asked.
Chaka nodded earnestly. Simba sighed, then stared thoughtfully at the ground.
"Do you remember how I told you that Grandfather was killed by his brother, Scar, who banished me and took over this kingdom?"
"Yes," Chaka said.
Simba gazed into Chaka's eyes.
"Well, Scar had a mate. Her name was Bianca. She was the leader of a wandering pride who had lost their king, and when they arrived in the Pride Lands, Scar took pity on her and allowed them to join his pride. I didn't know about Bianca and her pride until after I returned to the Pride Lands and defeated Scar. When she learned that Scar was dead, she was so furious that she attacked me. Luckily, your mother and the rest of the lionesses were able to stop her.
"No matter how much I talked to her, she refused to listen to reason...and I knew that fighting her would solve nothing. I eventually decided that there was only one thing to do."
"And...and what was that?" Chaka asked in a small voice.
"Exile," Simba said. "I banished Bianca and every other lioness loyal to Scar to a land on the other side of the Zuberi River known as the Outlands, and as far as I know, she and the rest of her pride still live there to this day."
Chaka stared at the ground, his green eyes filled with confusion.
"You sent them away just because they were loyal to Scar?" he asked.
"Yes," Simba said quietly. "I know it sounds cruel, but Bianca loved him so much that she went almost insane with rage when she learned he was dead. And I was sure that she would hurt us if she had the chance, and I just couldn't take the risk of letting her and her minions stay in the Pride Lands...and I had to be sure that my cubs would be safe as well."
He extended a paw and put it around Chaka.
"But don't worry," he said reassuringly. "As long as you, Shani and Timira stay away from the Outlands, you'll be all right...and when you grow up, you'll have nothing to fear from the Outsiders."
Simba lifted his paw from Chaka's back and returned it to its original position.
"Remember, Chaka: As king, you'll need to respect the balance of life. Every living thing is connected to every other living thing..."
Chaka nodded and responded to everything Simba said, yet he was barely listening. His mind was elsewhere and spinning with questions. What was it like in the Outlands? What were the Outsiders like? What was Bianca doing now?
"You and Chaka? I don't believe it," Shani said.
"I don't get it," Timira muttered. "I like him, but I don't wanna marry him!"
"Well, who's gonna be the queen then?" Shani asked.
"What about you?"
"I can't be the queen," Shani protested. "I'm his sister!"
"So? You can be queen without marrying him, can't you?"
"I dunno," Shani pondered. "I don't know if it works like that."
"Maybe Zazu knows," Timira said, looking over her shoulder. "Hey, Zaz -- "
She halted in mid-sentence. Zazu and Binti were sitting together on Winston's head, looking deeply into each other's eyes and talking in low voices.
"Psst -- Shani, look," Timira whispered, nodding in the couple's direction. Shani looked at them and giggled.
"And Dad thinks that you might be like that with Chaka someday," she grinned.
Timira rolled her eyes.
"Fat chance," she said. "The day I start getting lovey-dovey over your brother is the day -- "
Shani suddenly stopped walking and put out a paw to stop Timira as well. Winston, noticing this, decided to halt as well.
"Shhh!" she hissed. "Look."
Ahead of them was a stretch of ground almost devoid of grass. It was covered with a flock of small, tan birds pecking at the dirt, probably searching for worms or beetles.
"Don't move," Shani whispered. She dropped into a crouch and began slowly crawling towards the birds. Then, when she had almost reached the edge of the clearing, she burst out of the grass with a snarl and the birds took to the air in a squawking, frenzied mass. Shani raced across the clearing, laughing gleefully as the birds chattered angrily at her for disturbing their lunch.
Timira glanced skyward and shook her head.
"You'll never catch prey if you attack it like that, Shani," she said.
"I wasn't trying to catch anything," Shani said, skidding to a stop and climbing onto the top of a nearby boulder. "I was just..."
She stopped talking as something in the distance caught her attention. Barely half a mile away and on the far side of a wide river was a vast, barren land. There was barely any grass to be seen there, and the few trees that Shani could see were deformed and leafless. Craggy mountains bordered the land, and Shani could just make out the mouth of a large cave near the edge of the river. She hadn't noticed any of this while she was down on the ground, but the boulder had given her a much better vantage point.
"Hey, Timira," she called. "Come here and look at this."
Timira scampered up the boulder and sat down beside Shani. She noticed the strange, desolate land immediately and her amber eyes widened.
"Wow," she breathed.
"What is that place?" Shani asked.
"I know what it is," Timira said. "It's the Outlands. That's the place where the Outsiders live."
"How do you know that?"
"I overheard my mom talking about it with another lioness," Timira said. "They said that the Outsiders are a pride of weird lions that live there, and they sleep in a huge cave with walls that sparkle like stars."
"Woah," Shani gasped. "Really?"
"I dunno," Timira confessed. Then she grinned. "Maybe we oughta go there and see for ourselves."
Shani grinned as well.
"Yeah, that'd be cool..."
She paused, then frowned.
"But what about those two lovebirds back there?" she said, motioning behind her to where Winston was still standing, with Zazu and Binti still conversing on top of his head. Timira pursed her lips contemplatively, then smiled a mischievous smile.
"I know what to do about them," she said, starting to descend the boulder.
"What do you mean?" Shani asked.
"You'll see," Timira said. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing."
She leapt onto the ground and trotted up to Winston. She then called up to the two birds sitting on Winston's head.
"Um, Zazu? Binti?"
Zazu jumped in surprise, then glared huffily down at Timira.
"Yes, yes, yes, what?" he snapped.
"I'm sorry to interrupt you," said Timira innocently, "But there's a really important question I wanted to ask you two."
"Well, get on with it then," he said. "Ask away."
"Do you think you could come down here before I did?"
"What's wrong with asking us while we're up here?" Binti asked.
"Well..." Timira said with feigned uneasiness, "It's kind of a private question and I...I didn't want Winston or Shani to hear it..."
She lowered her voice and craned her neck in an attempt to get closer to the two hornbills.
"It's kind of about me and Chaka."
"Oh," said Zazu, starting to sound a little uneasy himself, "Oh my goodness, I think I understand now...just a moment, little Miss."
He leapt from the rhino's head and delicately alighted on the ground in front of Timira. Binti did the same.
"Now what was it you wanted to ask us?" Zazu asked. "Mind you, I'm not an expert in these sort of things, and I doubt Binti is either, but we'll certainly do our best to answer your question. Now, what is it?"
"Well," Timira said, "It's...um...er...well, you birds lay eggs, right?"
"Yes," Binti said. "I mean, yes, but not all of us do that. Just us girls."
"And the baby birds come out of those eggs, right?"
"Of course," Zazu said.
Timira's brow furrowed.
"But lions don't lay eggs, do they?"
"No lion I know has," Zazu said. "Nor, for that matter, has any lioness I've known."
"So..." Timira said slowly, "Why do birds lay eggs and lions don't lay eggs?"
Zazu peered quizzically at Timira, then briefly swapped glances with Binti.
"I haven't the foggiest idea," he said. "And I don't see why that matter should be such a burning question for you."
"But I just don't get it," Timira insisted. "Why don't lions lay eggs? Is it because we don't build nests? Or don't have beaks to peck through the shells?"
"I repeat, I haven't a clue why that is," Zazu said snootily. "All I know is that only birds lay eggs."
"But what about crocodiles?" Timira questioned. "Don't they lay eggs too?"
As Zazu was struggling to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question, Shani realized that now was a perfect time for her to escape. She carefully slunk down the boulder into the tall grass and began sneaking away from Zazu, Binti, Timira and Winston...and towards the Outlands.
Shani soon arrived at the edge of the river. A fallen tree formed a bridge over it, and Shani slowly padded across it, looking around at the strange land she was passing into. The water beneath her was still and shallow, with several sickly trees growing out of it and several greenish logs floating in it. The shore on the other side of the river was rocky and barren, dotted with tiny sprigs of grass.
Shani glanced warily about, hoping not to be spotted by any of the Outsiders that Timira had mentioned. Shani's golden coat was even lighter than Chaka's, making her stand out sharply against the gloomy landscape.
Coming to the end of the log, Shani hopped off and looked around the Outlands. The place looked just as harsh and desolate as it had from afar. How could anything live in a place like this, she wondered.
The enormous cave mouth was just a short distance away, and as Shani gazed at it, she was almost sure she saw something glittering inside it. Intrigued, she made her way towards it, all the while glancing to and fro to make sure nothing was watching her.
As she neared the cave, she could see what the source of the glittering was: The inside of the cave was lined with hundreds of clear, glistening crystals. Some were tiny, while some seemed as big as elephants, and they all shone in the weak sunlight that streamed through the cave's opening, creating a scintillating spectacle that dazzled Shani's eyes. Almost hypnotized by the sight, she quietly entered the cave.
Inside, it wasn't as dark as she thought it would be. Tiny openings in the cave roof far above let in small shafts of light, which were multiplied a hundredfold when they struck any of the crystals. Shani could just make out her reflection in some of the larger crystals. It too was multiplied many times by the crystals' numerous faces, stretched, bent, inverted, and warped in a myriad of ways. It was such a contrast to the dreary land outside that Shani felt as if she had stepped into another world. In the dim light, she could see many passageways leading away from the main cavern. Shani had no idea where they might go, and she was certain that wandering down any of them could easily get her lost...or worse.
Suddenly, Shani heard a noise coming from several feet above her head. Before she could look up to see what had caused it, a pebble came bouncing down from atop a nearby ledge, landing at her feet.
"Huh?" Shani wondered out loud.
She looked up at the ledge and gasped. A small shadow was moving across a section of the upper cave wall that wasn't covered with crystals, cast by something walking along the ledge. Then the owner of the shadow appeared. It was so dark in color that Shani could barely see what it was at first, then she realized that it was a lion cub -- a male one.
The cub stood motionless for a moment, then leapt down from the ledge and landed in front of Shani, glaring fiercely at her.
"Who are you, Pridelander?" he growled. "And what're you doing here?"
Shani backed away from him, ears flattened against her head in fear.
"I-I'm sorry," she stammered. "I was only exploring..."
"This is our lair," the cub snarled. "You Pridelanders wouldn't like it if one of us wandered into your lair, would you?"
"I don't know," Shani trembled, cowering as the cub came closer to her. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude..."
The dark cub padded up to Shani and stared down at her. His expression suddenly seemed more curious than angry.
"Are you really a Pridelander?" he asked.
Shani cautiously looked up at him.
"W-well...I live in the Pride Lands, if that's what you mean," she replied.
The cub cocked his head, looking puzzled.
"That's funny. I thought that all Pridelanders hated us. You sure don't seem like the Pridelanders my mother told me about."
He glanced over his shoulder for a moment.
"But she won't be happy if she finds you here. You'd better go, and now."
"Could you..." Shani said slowly, "could you please lead me to the entrance? I don't want to get lost in this cave."
What she said was only half true. Though she didn't want to get lost leaving the cave, she also wanted to learn a little more about this strange, dark lion cub. The cub looked skeptical for a moment, then shrugged and started walking in the direction of the cave entrance.
"Come on," he urged. "Let's get out of here before my mother finds us together."
The cubs were silent as they retraced Shani's path through the cave. Shani occasionally glanced at the cub, marveling at how different he was from the other cubs she knew. He was larger than Chaka, and he seemed older than him as well. His fur was much darker than Timira's, and his black nose had a peculiar, angular shape. The tip of his tail was black, and there was even a small tuft of black fur on the top of his head, a tiny part of what would one day be his mane. His eyes were green -- not pale green like Chaka's, but a brilliant emerald green, and in the dimness of the cave, they glowed like two green stars.
After several minutes, Shani and the cub reached the entrance of the cave. Shani continued walking towards the river, but instead of turning back, the cub continued to walk with her.
"How did you get here, anyway?" the cub asked. "That river is dangerous."
"I just walked across a tree that fell across it," Shani explained.
There was another silence as the two walked along, heading towards the river. Shani could feel the cub's eyes upon her. Apparently, this cub was just as curious about her as she was about him.
"Why did you come here?" he asked.
"I told you, I was exploring," Shani said. She looked back over her shoulder at the barren wastelands that surrounded the cave.
"You really live here?" she asked.
"Yeah," the cub replied nonchalantly.
"But how? I don't see any prey."
"Well...there is some. You just gotta know where to find it," the cub said after a long pause.
They had finally reached the edge of the river and the log that Shani had used as a bridge into the Outlands.
"I guess this is goodbye," Shani said as she hopped onto the log and began walking back across it.
"Yeah, I guess," the cub said.
"Maybe I could sneak back here and visit you sometime," Shani said, still looking back over her shoulder as she continued across the log.
"Wait a minute," the cub said, "You never told me your name!"
"Oh, right! My name is -- "
Shani never finished her sentence. Her paws slipped on the damp, mossy log and she fell off the log into the stagnant water below. The dark cub yelped in fear, hesitated for a moment, then bounded across several of the greenish logs floating in the water until he reached the one closest to Shani.
"Get out of there! Hurry!" he cried. Shani thrashed about in the water until she could feel the side of the log the cub was standing on. Before she could climb onto it, she felt the cub grab the scruff of her neck with his mouth, pulling her out of the water. With his help, she was able to climb out of the water with barely any effort at all.
However, before she or the cub could speak another word, the log they were standing on began to move. At one end of the log, a huge, pointed, scaly head broke the surface of the water and peered around to face them. The horrible truth dawned on Shani instantly. What she thought were green logs floating in the river were actually crocodiles.
Shani and the cub leapt off of back of the crocodile they were currently on and onto another green, scaly back. They hurriedly bounded from one crocodile to another, trying desperately to find somewhere out of reach of the huge beasts. The log spanning the river was too high overhead to reach, there were too many crocodiles between them and the Outlands shore, and the side of the river the Pride Lands were on was a high cliff that was much too steep to climb.
At one point, Shani and the dark cub became separated: Shani found herself stranded in one of the bare trees growing out of the water while the cub continued jumping from one huge reptile to another, often just out of reach of their snapping jaws. As Shani glanced around desperately, she noticed another bare tree that almost reached the top of the cliff on the Pride Lands side of the river. Then she heard a scream and to her horror, she saw that the cub had fallen from a crocodile's back and was now floundering helplessly in the water near the base of the very same tree. To make matters worse, a crocodile was speeding towards him, and there was no way the cub could make it up the tree before the crocodile reached him.
Gathering up all her courage, Shani leapt through the air, bounded off of one crocodile's back and landed on the head of the crocodile that was about to crush the cub in its jaws. Her weight had caused the creature's open mouth to snap shut just inches away from the terrified cub. Shani urged him to climb the tree, even though the cub was in no need of any encouragement. He scampered up the tree and onto the top of the cliff like a monkey, with Shani close behind him. Heart pounding, Shani leapt towards the top of the cliff, but unfortunately, she had overestimated her strength. Her top half made it onto the top of the cliff, but her bottom half didn't. While she tried to pull herself up over the edge with her front claws, her back claws scratched frantically at the side of the cliff, unable to gain any footing.
Then the dark cub came running up to Shani. Again he gripped the scruff of her neck in his mouth, and as he tugged her upwards, Shani just managed to pull herself up the edge of the cliff. At last, they were safe. Exhausted and still trembling, but safe.
For the moment.
"Wow," Shani gasped when she finally had breath enough to speak. "That was close!"
The dark cub nodded weakly, still a bit shaken from the experience. Shani peered inquisitively at him.
"Hey," she asked, "where did you learn that trick?"
"What trick?" the cub asked.
"The one where you grabbed my neck like that."
"Oh," the cub said. "I've seen my mother picking up my sister like that a lot. She does it with me too, and I thought it might work with you."
"Wow," Shani repeated. "Well it sure did..."
She looked deeply into the cub's green eyes.
"You were really brave," she said softly.
The cub smiled modestly.
"Well, you were pretty brave too," he admitted. Then he proudly puffed out his chest.
"My name's Kovu," he said.
Shani smiled, happy to finally know this strange cub's name.
"I'm Shani," she said.
Kovu grinned. Then he glanced around nervously at the lush trees and tall grass that surrounded the clearing they were standing in.
"I -- I really gotta go home now," he said in a hushed voice. "I shouldn't be here."
Shani's face fell.
"But we've just met," she protested. "Couldn't you just stay and play for a little while?"
Kovu stared quizzically at her.
"Play?" he asked. "Play what?"
"You know," Shani said, "tag, chase, hide-and-seek...you know, those kind of things!"
Kovu still looked confused. Shani began to grow confused as well. Then she remembered how Kovu had first acted when they had met. She dropped into a crouch and swished her tail, mock-growling at Kovu. Kovu's confusion slowly changed to recognition -- now this was a kind of "play" he was familiar with. He too crouched down and started snarling, his claws out, ready for Shani to "attack" him.
Suddenly, a large shadow blocked out the sunlight and a rumbling growl filled the air. Kovu looked up to see an angry golden lion with a red mane towering over him. Before he could turn and flee, however, he heard something burst out of the bushes behind him. He wheeled around to see a gaunt, scruffy, pale lioness standing over him. She roared fiercely at the lion, whose anger shifted from Kovu to her.
"Bianca," he growled.
The lioness bared her teeth in a vicious snarl. Kovu glanced around, trying to see where Shani had gone. He soon spotted her peering out nervously from behind one of the lion's forelegs. He also noticed that the lion was not alone: there were several lionesses gathered behind him, as well as a rhinoceros with a pair of hornbills perched on its head. In his terrified state, Kovu didn't know why a rhino would be in the company of lions, let alone one with two hornbills on its head, and he doubted that he would know why even if he weren't so frightened.
"Well, well, Simba," Bianca purred maliciously. "We meet again."
She looked down at Kovu, who was cowering between her front paws.
"Though I believe this is the first time you've met my son, Kovu," she added.
Simba glared coldly down at Kovu, who shrank away from him even more. Then Simba returned his gaze to Bianca.
"Well, now that I have met him," he said, "Both you and he can leave -- now."
Bianca's face took on a perturbed look.
"Goodness, how rude," she exclaimed. "I would think you of all lions would greet Scar's son with a little more respect than that."
Simba looked confused for a moment, then looked down at Kovu again. As he did, a wave of shock broke over him. He hadn't realized it at first, but now that he examined Kovu more closely, the resemblance between the little cub and Scar was impossible to overlook. Shani was staring at Kovu as well, wide-eyed at what she was hearing. That cruel-looking lioness was Kovu's mother...and his father was the lion that killed Shani's grandfather?
Simba shook his head and glared at Bianca once more.
"I've warned you not to return the Pride Lands, Bianca." he rumbled.
"The Pride Lands belong to Scar," Bianca snarled. "One day, Simba, we will return to these lands. They are our rightful home..."
She placed one paw protectively around Kovu.
"...and when that day comes, Kovu will take his place as the rightful king."
Simba's eyes narrowed.
"Enough," he said coldly. "Both of you get out. And if I find any of you near my children again, don't think I'll be this merciful a second time."
He gently picked Shani up in his mouth and turned to leave. Craning her neck, Shani was just able to see Kovu being picked up by his mother, who also turned and started walking away. Shani waved in Kovu's direction, and Kovu weakly waved back as they were carried away by their respective parents.
The sun was starting to grow low in the sky. Chaka was sitting on a large, flat slab of stone near the base of Pride Rock. With him were Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog duo who had saved Simba's life when he was a cub and had been his closest friends ever since.
Timon had the halves of three large nut shells placed open-side down in a neat row on the smooth stone, and was holding a small, dead beetle in one hand. Chaka watched intently as Timon placed the beetle under one of the shells, then quickly shuffled them.
"All right, kid," he said, stepping back from the shells. "Which one?"
Chaka stared thoughtfully at the row of shells, then gestured at the one in the center. Timon lifted it to reveal that there was nothing underneath it.
"Ooh, tough luck, Chaka," he said. "Wanna try again?"
"All right," he said.
Timon upturned the remaining two shells and located the beetle under the one on his left. He placed the insect under the shell in the center, then began shuffling the shells again.
"Watch the shells, watch the shells," he said quietly.
"Chaka, there's no way you're gonna win that game," said Timira, who was watching them from a few feet away.
"He sure won't if you distract him like that," Timon said without looking up. He stopped shuffling the shells and stepped back, and after a few seconds, Chaka picked the shell in the center again. Timon flipped it over, and Chaka grinned triumphantly to see the beetle sitting underneath it.
"Well, I'll be," Timon said, picking the beetle up, "Looks like we have a winner here, folks!"
"So where's that prize you said he would get if he won?" Timira asked.
"Eh..." Timon said uneasily. "Um...right here!"
He spoke these last two words proudly as he held the beetle out to Chaka.
"Here you are, kid. One of the finest delicacies of the Pride Lands, all yours."
Chaka looked dubiously at the dead beetle.
"Uh...I think I'll pass, Timon," he said.
"You sure about that?" Timon asked.
"Okay, whatever you say," Timon said, preparing to bite into the beetle.
"Hey, Timon, can I play now?" Pumbaa asked. "Please?"
Timon froze, then looked at the beetle he was about to eat and sighed.
"Okay, Pumbaa," he said disappointedly.
"Hey Chaka, look!" Timira suddenly exclaimed. "It's your mom!"
Chaka turned to see Nala, Zazu, Binti, Winston, and two of the lionesses from Simba's pride approaching Pride Rock. He and Timira ran excitedly towards them, leaving Timon and Pumbaa to their game.
"Mom, what happened?" Chaka cried as he neared Nala. "Where's Dad and Shani?"
"Don't worry, they're all right," Nala said reassuringly.
"But where are they?"
Nala looked over her shoulder and gestured towards a small hill some distance away. Simba's bright red mane was hard to overlook, but Shani was nothing more than a speck of gold from this far away.
"What's going on?" Timira asked.
"Shani got into a lot of trouble today. Her father wanted to talk to her about it alone."
Just the tone of her voice was enough to convey the seriousness of the situation. Both Chaka and Timira nodded silently in response. They watched Simba and Shani in silence for a few moments, then Chaka spoke again:
"Hey, they've stopped talking! They're coming over here!"
"Can we see her now?" Timira asked.
"Well, all right," Nala said. "But I don't want to hear any mocking or teasing from either of you."
The cubs nodded and bounded off towards Simba and Shani. Contrary to what Chaka had said, Simba and Shani were still talking as they approached Pride Rock, though Simba was doing most of the talking.
"Remember," Simba told Shani gently, "You are a very valuable member of the pride. As the king's sister, you are the second most important lioness in the pride. You will advise him when he is in need of advice, protect him when he is defenseless, and even act as king for him if he is preoccupied elsewhere. Do this, and in a way, you'll be just as powerful as him, Shani."
It was certainly a lot of information to be given to such a little cub, and Simba was sure he would have to tell it to her again eventually, but the wide-eyed look and the solemn nod Shani gave when he had finished speaking convinced him that she truly understood what he meant.
Chaka and Timira's arrival quickly broke the solemn feeling of that moment, however.
"Shani, what happened?" Chaka asked.
"Yeah, what happened?" Timira echoed.
Shani eagerly scampered over to them, and Simba decided to leave her be. She had gone through more than enough lecturing for one day.
"Timira, I went to the Outlands!" Shani whispered excitedly. "I found this big cave with huge crystals on the inside and then I got chased by crocodiles!"
"Wow," gasped Chaka and Timira simultaneously.
"And I met this cub named Kovu, and he helped me escape from the crocodiles!"
More sounds of amazement came from the other two cubs. Then a look of fear crossed Timira's face. She leaned closer to Shani and spoke in a voice that Chaka couldn't hear:
"Shani," she said nervously, "You didn't tell, did you?"
"About me telling you about the Outlands and distracting Binti and Zazu so you could go there...Please tell me you didn't tell on me, Shani."
Shani smiled at Timira.
"I would never tell on you, Timira," she whispered. "You're my friend."
Timira breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thanks," she said gratefully.
"Hey, what are you talking about?" Chaka asked, leaning closer to his sister.
"Nothing," Shani said quickly.
Chaka rolled his eyes.
"Come on, I know you were talking about something. What was it?"
Shani paused, then smirked.
"We were talking about what you and Timira are going to name your babies after you two are married," she said.
Chaka grimaced while Timira stifled a giggle. There was a brief pause, then Chaka spoke again:
"Did you meet any other lions when you were in the Outlands?"
"Well, kind of," Shani said. "When Dad found me, this scary lioness who said she was Kovu's mother showed up. Dad called her Bianca."
Bianca? Chaka remembered that name all too well from the talk Simba had given him earlier that day...Bianca, the lioness who was Scar's mate, the one who had tried to kill Simba, the one who had an entire pride of lionesses faithful to Scar living in that desolate wasteland on the other side of the Zuberi River...
"Huh...what was Bianca like, Shani?" Chaka asked. "What did she say?"
Shani told him everything she could remember. Chaka listened intently to her words, saying nothing, but thinking a lot.
Bianca carried Kovu into the great cave that the Outsiders had made their home. The light inside was even poorer than usual because of the low sun, but Bianca was used to the darkness, and she knew the caverns so well that she could find her way through them even if she were completely blind.
The tunnel that led to the lair's entrance sloped downward into a large central cavern. A large hole in the cave's ceiling provided ample light when the sun was high in the sky, but now this cavern was just as dark as any of the other caverns that branched off of it. Bianca could see several of her pride sisters lounging about near the cavern's walls. Many of them had been lank and scrawny even before their exile, and most of them had dark fur that had grown dull from the harsh existence they now endured in the unforgiving Outlands. Lying in the center of the cavern, chewing on a small stick, was Bianca's daughter, Shetani.
Shetani was a scruffy little cub that looked hardly anything like her brother. Her tan fur was somewhat darker than her mother's, but her eyes were neither green nor red but a brilliant blue. Bianca faintly recalled her own mother having eyes like that.
Noticing Bianca, Shetani dropped her stick and trotted up to her.
"Hey, Kovu, where've you been?" she said gruffly. "I've been looking for you all afternoon!"
Bianca dropped Kovu onto the cave floor and glared warningly at Shetani. Shetani, realizing that her mother was in one of her bad moods, quietly backed off. Kovu trembled as his mother turned to face him.
"What were you thinking?" she snarled. "Haven't I told you to stay away from the Pride Lands?"
Several of the lionesses, including Shetani, pricked up their ears upon hearing this.
"Y-yes, but -- " Kovu protested.
"Who made us Outsiders?" Bianca growled.
"Simba!" Kovu said, starting to back away from his irate mother.
"Who killed your father?"
"And what have I told you about them?" Bianca thundered.
Kovu cowered before his mother, saying nothing for a moment. Shetani silently watched the scene, both curious and fearful at the same time.
"But -- " Kovu stammered, "But -- that girl Pridelander...she didn't act like you said they do...I -- I thought..."
"You thought you'd make friends with her?" Bianca said scornfully, turning away from Kovu in disgust. "Make friends with the daughter of the lion who has exiled us in the hopes that he might decide to accept you? Of all the stupid, ridiculous -- "
She halted in mid-sentence, her face frozen in an odd expression. Then the corners of her mouth curled into a wide smile.
" -- cunning, ingenious ideas I've ever heard," she concluded in a voice that was now warm and motherly. Kovu stared dubiously at her as she turned to face him again.
"My dear son, you truly are your father's son. You have the same brilliant, scheming mind that he did. Yes...yes, I can see it all clearly now..."
"See what?" Kovu asked, thoroughly confused by now.
"No, no," Bianca said gently, stroking Kovu's back with her paw. "Let's wait until tomorrow to start putting the plan together."
Kovu blinked sleepily. Bianca glanced up and noticed that many of the lionesses had drawn closer during her talk with him, and were now watching her expectantly. Their eyes glowed eerily in the dark cavern.
"We have much work ahead of us, Kovu," Bianca said, half to him, half to the lionesses surrounding her. "But one day, my son, we will take back the Pride Lands...and you shall be the new king."
In the weeks that followed, Simba made sure that Shani was watched very closely to make sure that she didn't try to enter the Outlands again. However, Shani herself had no desire to return there. Her close call with the crocodiles had been frightening enough, but it wasn't that that made her afraid to venture back there -- it was Bianca. Something about that encounter with her had truly frightened Shani, and she didn't dare want to risk running into her again. Barely escaping the crocodiles may have been terrifying, but it paled into comparison to the sinister way Bianca spoke and acted.
Still, Shani found herself staring at the Outlands many times as the months went on. She also found her thoughts constantly wandering back to that dark little cub with the tuft of black mane on his head: Kovu. Why didn't he know what playing was? Why did he have to live in a place like the Outlands? Was he thinking of her as well?
Simba was often thinking about Kovu as well, but for very different reasons. What Bianca had told him that day he had first encountered Kovu troubled him. Was Kovu truly Scar's son, and what was Bianca going to do to ensure that Kovu became the next king? He had a vague idea of what she might have meant by that, and he didn't like it one bit.
If Simba had only known that Bianca was expecting when he had exiled her...but if he had let her stay in the Pridelands long enough to give birth, what would he have done afterwards? Exile her and her comrades and let Kovu remain in the Pridelands to receive a proper upbringing, or simply kick all of them out once Kovu was old enough? Neither solution seemed very promising, and it was useless to dwell on such things that had already happened. Put your past behind you, as Timon used to say.
Though Nala tried to reassure Simba that perhaps Kovu wouldn't grow into the tyrant that Scar had been, Simba simply couldn't help worrying. Though Bianca's first act of revenge against Simba had been a failure, Simba was certain that she would try again...however, the question of when she would was still a mystery to him.
As time passed and Chaka, Shani and Timira grew older, Kovu slowly began to drift from Simba's mind. There was still much to teach the three cubs, and Simba was trying his hardest to educate them to the best of his abilities. He slowly grew more confident in his teaching abilities, and as the cubs became adolescents, he could see that his efforts were definitely starting to pay off.
Chaka accepted the responsibilities of a future king with a solemn grace. He understood the sad fact that Simba wouldn't be there for him when he took his place as king, and thus he took every word that his father said to heart. Since neither of them knew what the future would hold for them, they spent as much time together as they could, whether it was time spent playing or learning.
Though Shani also willingly accepted her place as the king's sister, she was much more carefree and innocent than her brother. Even when Chaka's mane started to come in, Shani was still trying to get him to play with her. Even when Chaka refused, Shani wouldn't be hurt at all, and would often find some other way to entertain herself. Chasing birds was still a favorite pastime of hers.
Though Timira lost none of her sly wit and mischief as she grew older, she began to develop an elegant, noble grace that few lionesses possessed, even as mature adults. She walked with a steady, almost liquid movement, and when she ran, her sleek, dark body flexed like a cheetah's. In many ways, she began to remind Simba of his mother, Sarabi.
Dear Sarabi...brave, loyal, Sarabi, who had passed away just a few days after Simba's cubs were born...how he missed her. After so many sad years without him, she was finally reunited with her beloved Mufasa. Simba sometimes wished that she could be with him now, helping him teach her grandchildren how to become rulers just as great as she and Mufasa were...but perhaps it was for the best that she was gone. Perhaps witnessing the birth of her grandchildren was the last thing she wanted to do in this world before she left.
As the cubs in the Pridelands grew up, so did the cubs in the Outlands. Kovu was becoming stronger and fiercer under Bianca's strict training, and even as an adolescent, he could defeat an opponent nearly twice his size. Day after day, Bianca pounded into him the reason why she was training him so roughly: Scar was the rightful king, and Pride Lands were their rightful home. Simba killed Scar and took over the Pride Lands, then exiled all who supported him. It was Kovu's duty to avenge his father's death and kill Simba. Then and only then would justice be done.
Shetani was undergoing some of Bianca's training as well, and though she wasn't nearly as large and muscular as her brother, she was still quick and vicious. Her desire to win back her rightful home was just as strong as Kovu's. What happened after Simba was taken care of didn't matter at the moment; all that truly mattered was reclaiming Kovu's rightful place as king.
The wise old mandrill Rafiki was well aware of all this. He had his ways of gleaning knowledge from the world around him without even leaving the safety of the large baobab tree where he lived. This was how he had determined that Simba was alive long after everyone else assumed he was dead.
When Rafiki had learned about Kovu, he spent many nights pondering over the significance of the son of the lion whose reign had devastated the Pride Lands so severely. He had even drawn a figure of Kovu on the inside of his tree next to the drawings he had made of Shani and Chaka, and spent much time gazing at it.
Time, it seemed, flew by at an incredible speed. Seasons came and went, and soon the time came for Rafiki to add manes to the drawings of Chaka and Kovu: A rich brown one for Chaka, a thick black one for Kovu. Two princes, both of them seeking the same throne, Rafiki thought. How will this turn out?
Simba, Nala, Zazu, Timon, Pumbaa, and nearly all the members of the pride had gathered at the base of Pride Rock. Today was a very important day. Princess Shani was about to embark on her first hunt. It was one of the most pivotal moments in the life of a lioness, especially for one who happened to be the king's daughter.
Shani wasn't going to hunt alone, however. She and Timira had asked Simba to let them hunt together, and Simba saw no reason to turn down their request. Though she hadn't yet participated in any formal hunts, Timira had become quite a proficient hunter, even if her prey consisted mostly of mice, ground squirrels and small birds.
The pride suddenly began talking excitedly, and Simba looked up to see Shani and Timira descending the slope that led to the main level of Pride Rock. They walked side by side, looking excited, but nervous as well.
Simba marveled at the young lioness his daughter had become. Her pale gold fur shone like the sun, and her bright eyes sparkled with life. She delicately padded down the slope, smiling warmly at the lionesses of the pride as they praised her and offered her words of encouragement.
Timira's demeanor was somewhat more reserved than her friend's. She nodded and smiled in response to the lionesses' words, but it was apparent that she was taking this affair very seriously. She seemed determined to live up to her role as future queen and make her first hunt a success.
As Timira neared her mother Masika, they nuzzled fondly and Masika whispered something to her that Shani couldn't hear. Then they approached Simba and Nala, who smiled lovingly at them.
"Are you ready, you two?" Simba asked.
"You bet," Shani grinned.
Timira nodded, but then frowned and glanced around the crowd of lionesses surrounding them.
"Where's Chaka?" she asked. "I thought he'd be here today."
Simba glanced worriedly at Timira. As she and Chaka had started entering adolescence, a small but definite rift had started to grow between them. Though he still spent time with Shani, Chaka talked to Timira less and less, and consequently Timira became more and more uncomfortable around him. Part of Simba felt that this was simply some of the normal moodiness that all young lions went through, but part of him worried that perhaps Chaka and Timira's friendship was fading -- and if they weren't even friends anymore, how were they going to get along once they were married and ruling the kingdom?
Perhaps Simba should have done away with the whole betrothal tradition like he claimed he was going to do when he was a cub, but once again, it seemed too late for anything to be done. As he was trying to come up with a suitable answer to Timira's question, Nala suddenly spoke up:
"Chaka said he wanted to be alone for a while," she explained. "I'm sure he wanted to come, but was too nervous to. You know how shy he can be at times."
Timira looked down dejectedly. Nala gently nuzzled her.
"Don't worry, Timira," she said soothingly. "He won't be away for long, and I'm sure he'll be there when you and Shani return."
Timira smiled a forced smile and nodded.
"I hope so," she said quietly. Then she turned to Shani.
"Well, let's go."
Shani grinned excitedly, then turned to say good-bye to her parents.
"Be careful, Shani," Simba said, rubbing his head against hers.
"I will," she replied.
"Good luck," Nala said.
With that, Shani and Timira left the large gathering of animals, heading out into the vast plains of the Pride Lands. Everyone watched the two young lionesses until they were lost among the tall, golden grasses.
"Wow," Pumbaa said, sounding genuinely touched. "That sure was special."
"Yeah," Timon agreed, leaning against the warthog's leathery side. "Now why can't us meerkats and warthogs have things like this to celebrate when we've dug up our first bugs on our own?"
Meanwhile, miles away from Pride Rock, Shetani stealthily crept through a dark, gloomy place littered with the countless bones of beasts that had died many lifetimes before. Many geysers adorned the land as well, and would often spew out scalding steam or fiery jets.
Shetani moved slowly, warily glancing from side to side and sniffing the air. In some ways, she thought to herself, this place was even worse than the Outlands. At least in the Outlands, there weren't many places that were truly dangerous. Here, however, there was the constant danger of getting badly burnt by one of those geysers, getting badly cut on a sharp sliver of bone, getting hopelessly lost amongst the many caverns...
...Or getting attacked by hyenas.
Even though her mother had said that hyenas no longer inhabited this desolate place where ancient elephants went to die, the smell of the scavengers still hung heavily in the air. As tough as she was, Shetani was still frightened. She had never been away from her pride for this long, and being in this bone-strewn wasteland wasn't a pleasant place to be alone. Still, she had a mission to carry out...and for the sake of herself, Kovu and the rest of her pride, she had to accomplish it.
In her mouth she carried a long, dry branch. She rolled it back and forth between her teeth as she walked, warily glancing about. It wasn't just hyenas she was on the lookout for, however, and after exploring the graveyard for some time, she found exactly what she was looking for.
It was a small geyser with a thick rim around it. As Shetani watched, a tall plume of flame shot out of it, then disappeared. She cautiously approached it, placed the branch on the rim of the geyser, then stepped back. She had her doubts that this particular part of the plan would work, but she trusted her mother's judgment.
After a minute or two, the geyser erupted again, and to Shetani's delight, she saw that the tip of the branch had caught fire. She carefully picked it up and began to retrace her steps. The Pride Lands were just a short distance away, but she still had to make it there as quickly as possible.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Shani," Timira said. "Even the best hunters lose their prey two times out of three."
"But we were so close," Shani moaned.
"Well, believe me, it could have been worse," Timira said. "At least neither of us got kicked in the head. What do you think we should go for next?"
Shani sighed. She and Timira had attempted to make a kill three times, and each time had been a complete failure. Still, they still had plenty of energy and hadn't given up completely yet. They just had to find the right prey to attack...
"Well...how about those zebras over there?" Shani asked.
Timira squinted at the distant black and white specks.
"They seem pretty far away," she remarked. "Are you sure you want to go for them?"
"Sure," said Shani. "They can't be any more difficult than those wildebeest were."
Timira nodded. She stepped down from the large rock she and Shani were using to survey the land and began walking in the direction of the zebra herd. Shani leapt off the rock and bounded up to Timira's side. They walked along in silence for several minutes until Shani spoke again:
"Maybe we should try taking down a young one this time," she suggested.
"Or maybe one of the old ones. A big one would be better than a small one, wouldn't it?"
Timira said nothing. Shani stared questioningly at her.
"Uh...Timira?" she asked quietly.
Timira stopped walking and glared at her.
"What?" she snapped.
"I'm sorry," said Shani meekly. "You just seem angry all of a sudden."
Timira glanced down.
"I'm not angry," she said dully. "I'm just...thinking."
Shani suddenly realized what was going on.
"It's about Chaka, isn't it?"
Timira's orange eyes stared deeply into Shani's. Then she cast them down again.
"Yes," she sighed.
"Oh," Shani said. "I see...I wish he had been there too, but what Mom said about him just being shy...I think she was right."
"You think so?" Timira asked.
"Yeah. Chaka's always been like that, you know."
"Well...I hope you're right," Timira said, slowly looking up at Shani.
Shani nodded, then grinned and nudged Timira playfully.
"Come on, let's grab one of those zebras before they all run away," she laughed.
Timira couldn't help but be touched by Shani's words. She smiled gently and the two of them once more began making their way towards the unsuspecting herd that lay before them.
Shetani stood on a small bluff near the edge of the Pride Lands. Her stick was burning up rapidly and she didn't know how much longer it would last. She eyed the plains intently, waiting for her target to appear. When it did, she would have to act quickly but carefully. The slightest mistake on her part could spell disaster...but there was no way of knowing how the fire would behave once it was set free. Still, the wind seemed to be just right, and she knew that her target would be close by...
...And then suddenly, she spotted it: a pale speck of gold on a distant hill, slowly but surely headed her way. Now it was time. Shetani leapt down from the bluff and began running through the tall grasses, brushing them with the flaming tip of her branch. The dry grasses burst into flames, crackling noisily. The heat was terrible, and Shetani was afraid that her fur would catch on fire, but she reminded herself again and again that she couldn't fail in her mission.
She ran as fast as she could through the grasses, creating a towering wall of flames. When this was done, she paused and looked back to examine her handiwork. Yes, she told herself, this was enough. Her part of the plan was over. She dropped the burning branch and sped away as the fire grew larger and larger, the wind sweeping it across the plains towards the two young lionesses that were slowly approaching a small herd of zebras.
Concerned that her darker coat would be noticed by the zebras, Timira had been approaching them with her body flattened against the ground for some time now. However, she and Shani were finally growing close to the zebras, and now Shani dropped into a crouch beside her. From now on, they both had to move as silently and discreetly as they could.
The herd continued grazing placidly as the two lionesses drew closer. Shani spotted a sickly looking one near the edge of the herd. She gently nudged Timira and gestured towards it. Timira gazed thoughtfully at the zebra, then nodded to Shani.
As the lionesses began approaching their target, however, some of the other zebras suddenly lifted their heads and began glancing about nervously. Shani and Timira froze. Had the zebras seen them?
They had no time to contemplate this question, since the entire herd of zebras began galloping away from them. Timira looked aghast for a moment, but then enraged. With a frustrated snarl, she bolted after the retreating zebras. Startled and confused, Shani took off after her.
"Timira, it's no use!" Shani panted. "There's no way we can catch up with them when they're this far ahead of us!"
"I can catch up with them, and I will," Timira growled. "These stupid animals have gotten away from me too many times now, and they're not getting away from me..."
Her words trailed off into silence, and her run suddenly slowed into a walk. Shani's pace slowed as well until they had both come to a complete stop. The zebras had all disappeared over a high hill, but Timira's interest in them seemed to have suddenly vanished. She frowned and sniffed the air.
"What is that?" she asked, wrinkling her nose.
Shani took a few tentative breaths through her nostrils and smelled something strong and acrid that seemed to be coming from somewhere ahead of them. She then glanced upward and gasped. Timira looked up as well and her eyes grew wide with fear.
A huge cloud of smoke was rapidly rising over the crest of the hill, and the zebras that were running away from them minutes ago were now running towards them. Behind them, tall, orange flames flickered fiercely, consuming the dry grasses that lay before them and coming closer by the second.
No more words needed to be spoken between Shani and Timira. They turned and ran, followed closely by the herd of zebras as well as a vast swarm of other animals who were also trying to escape the merciless fire.
As the blaze spread, two lions sat and watched it from a high rock near the border of the Pride Lands. One was a pale, elderly female with reddish eyes: Bianca. The other was a young male with dark fur and a black mane. The years of training his mother had given him had changed him into a strong, skilled fighter. He had never killed one of his own kind, but he certainly could if he had a reason to.
There was only one lion Kovu had a reason to kill, however: Simba. The one who had usurped the throne that had rightfully belonged to Kovu's father, then killed him and banished all who were loyal to him to the Outlands. As his mother had told him time and time again, killing Simba was the only way to reclaim Kovu's rightful place as king of the Pride Lands.
Bianca smiled fondly at her son. How much like Scar he now looked: the same dark pelt, the same black mane, even the same green eyes that glowed in the light of the fire. He even had the same cunning mind and sharp wit that Scar had, and Bianca knew that Kovu would not fail in avenging her mate's death.
"The plan is in motion," she whispered to him, watching the roaring flames that danced around them. "Go!"
Kovu leapt from the rock and into the fire, making his way through the twisted, blazing labyrinth that stood between him and his goal. Bianca felt a twinge of fear as he disappeared amongst the flames, but it quickly passed. He is Scar's son, she reminded herself. He won't fail.
Shani ran through the smoky fields, her heart thundering in her chest. The fire had spread so rapidly that had surrounded her almost completely, and every opening she bolted for became engulfed in flames almost instantly.
Suddenly she realized that Timira was gone. In her blind panic, she hadn't realized she was alone until now. She glanced wildly about, trying to find her. How long had they been separated? Had Timira escaped the fire? Was she still close by?
The smoke started to sting Shani's eyes and she took off running again. She had to find a way out, and quickly. She was even more terrified now that she knew Timira was gone. With her, she might not have been so afraid, but now she was completely alone and at the mercy of the fire. Timira couldn't save her, Chaka couldn't save her, her parents couldn't save her, no one could --
Suddenly a dark shape loomed out of the smoke ahead of her. It was difficult to make out at first, but then Shani realized that it was a lion. Thinking it to be her brother or her father, Shani ran toward it, but then skidded to a halt when she came close enough to see him clearly.
It was indeed a lion, but not one that Shani had ever seen before. This one had a smooth, dark mane and a pelt even darker than the smoke that billowed around him. His green eyes glared at Shani, and she trembled with fear.
"Follow me," the lion growled. "Hurry, we don't have much time left."
Before Shani could respond, the lion turned and started loping away, then stopped and looked over his shoulder when he realized that Shani hadn't moved.
"Come on!" he roared. "Unless you want to die here!"
Shani didn't. She hurried after the stranger, who ran so quickly that she had difficulty keeping up with him. The smoke was getting thicker and Shani was having trouble breathing. Once a blazing tree fell across their path. Shani jumped at the sight of this, but the stranger merely snarled angrily and ran around it.
They kept on running until they came to the top of a steep incline overlooking a small stream, one of the tributaries of the Zuberi River. The stranger leapt off the ledge and into the stream, swimming for the opposite side. Shani hesitated, then jumped as well, paddling through the still water as competently as she could. The stranger was already waiting for her on the far bank.
Shani dragged herself out of the water and shook herself dry. She looked behind her to see that the fire was starting to grow smaller. With no more grass to feed it, it was slowly but surely dying. Shani sighed with relief, then turned to face the dark stranger, who was standing expectantly in front of her.
"Who are you?" she asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously.
"I think I'm the one who just saved your life," the stranger said.
"Hey, I could've gotten out of that fire just fine," Shani shot back, her pride a little bruised.
"It sure didn't look like that when I found you...Pridelander."
"Pridelander?" Shani tried to remember where she had heard that word before. Suddenly she remembered that strange cub she had met when she was exploring the Outlands...
"Kovu?" she asked in disbelief.
Kovu grinned smugly. Suddenly, Shani heard her father's voice calling her. She turned just in time to see Simba come running her way. He had seen the fire from Pride Rock and had taken off for it right away, sending Zazu ahead to search for Shani. When Zazu came back to Simba to report that he had seen Shani in the company of a strange lion, Simba hurried even faster, even more fearful for Shani's safety than he had been before.
"Shani," Simba gasped, coming to a halt beside her. Then he turned and snarled angrily at Kovu, who instinctively backed away.
"Shani!" another voice called. "You're all right!"
It was Nala. Behind her were Chaka, Masika and Zazu. Zazu landed on a nearby rock while Nala ran up to Shani's side and rubbed her head against hers. Chaka was about to do the same when he noticed Kovu. He stopped and glared suspiciously at the intruder. When Kovu saw Chaka, he was even more shocked than he had been when Simba appeared. Bianca hadn't told him that Simba had a son...would he have to kill him as well?
"Who are you?" Simba growled at Kovu. "And what are you doing here?"
Kovu cowered a little before Simba, yet still managed to maintain his dignity.
"My name is Kovu," he said. "And I -- "
"Kovu?" Simba repeated. He bared his teeth and snarled at the intruder again, though inside he was terrified. Kovu looked even more like Scar now that he was an adult. Even though his mane was still very small, the similarity was unmistakable. The only thing that truly set them apart was Kovu's lack of a scar over his left eye.
"May I finish what I was about to say, Your Highness?" Kovu said quietly when Simba had finished snarling. Simba's whiskers tensed, but then his face grew calmer and he slowly nodded, though he was still glaring at Kovu.
"As I was saying," Kovu said calmly, "I left the Outsiders. My mother was formulating some kind of insane plan for invading the Pride Lands, and I didn't want to be part of it. I never did. I've tried to escape them before, but I've always failed until today."
Kovu slowly took a step forward.
"I humbly ask to join your pride," he said.
Simba stared in astonishment at him. An Outsider, not only boldly venturing into the Pride Lands, but asking to be accepted into the pride? This lion was either very foolish...or had some other motive.
"No," Simba said in a low voice. "Leave your pride if you want, but these lands are still off limits to you and every other Outsider."
"But Dad -- " Shani interrupted.
"Shani, be quiet," Simba ordered.
"But Dad," Shani protested. "He...he saved my life."
Simba stared in disbelief in Shani, then back at Kovu.
"Is this true?" he asked Shani.
"Yes," Shani nodded. "I got trapped in the fire and he led me out. If he hadn't found me..."
She trailed off and gazed sympathetically at Kovu. Simba looked at Kovu again. This lion had saved Shani? Why would an Outsider do something like that? Perhaps Simba had judged Kovu too harshly...after all, Kovu had become an Outsider just because he was born in the Outlands. He hadn't supported Scar or tried to kill Simba...why was Simba treating him as if he had?
"Well, Kovu," Simba said slowly. "It looks as if we are in your debt, and it is only fair that we repay you. Come with us."
He turned and started to walk away. Then Masika suddenly spoke in a trembling voice:
Everyone turned to face her. Shani's heart filled with fear. In the chaos of the fire, she had completely forgotten about Timira. Chaka turned to his sister, his eyes wide.
"Where is she, Shani?" he demanded, a tremor in his voice. "What happened to her?"
"I...I don't know," Shani stammered. "When the fire came, I lost sight of her...but she couldn't have gone far..."
Masika's face became distraught.
"Where is my daughter?" she cried.
"I don't know!" Shani repeated, close to tears. "But she must be all right. She's the fastest lioness in the pride. I know she must've outrun the fire."
A terrible silence fell over the small gathering. Chaka stood motionless, staring straight ahead yet seeing nothing. Nala rubbed her chin along Masika's neck, trying to calm her. Kovu looked at all of them confusedly, wondering what this latest development meant. Simba turned and gazed at the fading flames of the fire.
"I'm afraid there isn't anything we can do now," he said, trying to sound confident in spite of the anxiety overwhelming him. "It'll be dark soon...but don't worry, Masika. We'll start a search party first thing in the morning. We'll do everything we can to find your daughter."
He glanced at Kovu out of the corner of his eye.
"For now, though, let's lead our newest...'member' home."
With a heavy heart, he turned and began the long walk back to Pride Rock. Zazu sneered disdainfully at Kovu, then took to the air and began following Simba. Masika, Shani and Nala followed him, the dark lioness still mortified at the thought of what might have happened to her daughter. Chaka walked behind them, but when Kovu cautiously began to follow the procession, Chaka suddenly wheeled around to face him. His jade green eyes stared deeply into Kovu's emerald green ones.
"I don't trust you, Outsider," he said in a low voice. "Why would you endanger your life just to save my sister?"
Kovu recoiled a little, but still held his ground.
"She was in danger, I was nearby, I helped her," he replied. "What more can I say?"
Chaka scowled at him.
"I've heard about your mother," he hissed. "And what she has planned for you."
"I wanted nothing to do with her plans," Kovu lied. "That was why I left my pride, remember?"
"That may be true," Chaka said. "But you'd better watch your back, Outsider. If I catch you trying to hurt my father, my sister, or anyone else in my pride..."
Chaka showed Kovu one of his paws, which had all of its claws fully extended. He made a weak swipe towards Kovu to make his point, then turned and continued to follow his family as calmly as if nothing had happened. Kovu eyed Chaka cautiously, waiting until the brown-maned lion was a fair distance ahead of him before he began following him. Perhaps taking out Simba would be a little harder than he originally thought...
The air was choked with dust and filled with the deafening rumble of thousands of hooves. Simba was standing on a narrow rock ledge many feet above the ground, confused and terrified. Then he heard a voice calling to him over the thundering cacophony -- a voice he hadn't heard for many years.
"Simba! Simba! Help me!"
Simba looked around wildly, and to his horror, he saw his father, Mufasa, clinging to the rock wall several feet below him. Far below him, hundreds of wildebeest thundered by, their eyes glowing a savage red.
"Father!" Simba screamed.
He reached towards Mufasa with his right forepaw, trying to grab onto him. Suddenly, a chilling laugh came from behind Simba. Simba turned and shuddered. Scar was standing on a ledge above them, laughing maniacally.
Tearing his eyes away from the terrifying specter of his uncle, Simba again tried to reach his father. If he just reached a little farther, perhaps he could save him...just a little farther...
There was suddenly a stinging pain in Simba's left foreleg. Simba turned to see that Scar had grabbed it with his claws, and he was the one who had just spoken. His green eyes glowed menacingly as he grinned down at Simba.
"Trust me," he hissed.
Simba heard his father calling to him again. He whirled around, but it was too late. Mufasa had slipped out of reach, and was now falling into the stampede. It was just like it had happened all those years ago. Mufasa had died before Simba's eyes, and was all because of Scar...Scar, who still had his claws digging into Simba's leg, and was still laughing...
Simba angrily turned to face Scar, ready to fight him as he had when he returned to Pride Rock. Then, before his eyes, Scar's face changed...into Kovu's. Simba stared in horror at the madly laughing lion with the scar over his left eye, too terrified to react. Then Kovu grinned and flung Simba off of the ledge. Simba fell screaming into the massive torrent of tearing horns and slashing hooves, but just before he hit the ground, he awoke with a start.
He glanced around, trying to get his bearings. He was in the main cave of Pride Rock, with Nala at his side and Chaka and Shani sleeping nearby. Kovu was nowhere to be seen, for Simba, still not trusting him completely, had refused to let him enter the cave with the rest of the pride. Still trembling, he took one more look around the cave, just to be sure that Kovu wasn't hiding behind a rock, ready to strike...
No, he told himself. No. It was just a dream. Kovu isn't Scar. He isn't like him at all. He saved Shani, didn't he? He can't be bad if he would risk his life to do something like that.
As he thought this, Simba's mind grew calmer and calmer until at last he was relaxed enough to go back to sleep. He had no more dreams that night.
The next morning, Simba assembled a small group of lionesses to look for Timira. The group was to be divided into two halves, each one traveling in a different direction. Kovu, sensing what seemed like an opportunity, asked to join Simba's half of the group, but Chaka, who was standing nearby when Kovu proposed this, asked to come along as well. Simba agreed to this, and thus Kovu spent the entire search being closely monitored by Chaka, unable to make a move without him noticing.
Simba's half of the search party consisted of not only Kovu, Chaka and two of the pride's lionesses, but the peculiar meerkat and warthog duo that Kovu had been informed were Simba's most trusted companions. What sort of a lion would let two prey animals be part of his pride, Kovu wondered.
The search party soon reached the part of the Pride Lands that the fire had destroyed. Ash blanketed the bare ground, and the charred skeletons of trees reached towards the sky with their bare claw-like branches. The lions slowly made their way into the barren land, gazing in horrified awe at the desolation about them. Every now and then, they would spot the blackened skeleton of an animal that became trapped in the fire. Skeletons of zebras, antelope and wildebeest...but no lioness skeletons.
The search continued until the sun was high in the sky. This was the time Simba had said that the two halves of the group would rejoin and tell each other whether or not they had found Timira. However, the other half of the group -- the one led by Nala -- had been no more successful than Simba's half.
"There still might be a chance that she is alive," Simba said. "Tomorrow, we'll search these lands again."
Nala and most of the other lionesses in the group nodded. The search party returned to Pride Rock. They had all grown tired and every one of them needed to rest.
Kovu, however, couldn't rest. He sat beneath the shade of a tree near the base of Pride Rock, thinking about Simba and Chaka. Should he risk getting caught by Chaka and go for Simba now, or wait until Chaka trusted him? Would Chaka ever trust him?
"Hey," said a voice.
Kovu jumped slightly, but then relaxed when he saw that it was Shani.
"Oh, it's you," he muttered, turning away.
"Um..." said Shani, glancing down at her paws for a moment, "I wanted to thank you. You know, for saving me from the fire."
"Oh, that," Kovu said. "Sure, no problem."
He hoped Shani would go away now that he had acknowledged her thanks, but she didn't. In fact, she leaned even closer to him.
"You really are brave," she said.
Kovu mumbled in response.
"Remember that time we met when we were cubs, and you helped save me from the crocodiles?"
Kovu nodded. Shani cocked her head and stared at him.
"You don't talk a lot, do you?" she asked.
Normally, that sort of question would have received an irritated comeback from Kovu, but something in the way Shani asked it made him smirk.
"I guess I don't," he chuckled. "Is your dad going to kick me out of the Pride Lands for not talking enough?"
"I don't think so," she said.
There was a long pause, during which Kovu alternately looked at and looked away from Shani. She looked almost the same as she had looked when Kovu had first encountered her. She still had the same large, innocent eyes, the light gold fur, and even the scruffy tuft of fur on top of her head. Even her demeanor seemed a bit more like a cub's than a full-grown lioness'. Despite looking and acting somewhat cub-like, however, there was something genuinely beautiful about her, in both appearance and attitude.
Shani suddenly noticed Kovu staring at her and he quickly glanced away and cleared his throat.
"So..." he said as casually as he could. "Who is Timira? All I learned about her was what she looked like, but that was it."
Shani's ears drooped.
"She's my friend," she said quietly. "She's fast and smart and she's a great hunter...in fact, she was with me when I...when I got trapped in the fire."
"You didn't see what happened to her?" he asked.
"No," said Shani. "But she just has to be all right. She has to. I know we'll find her soon."
Kovu nodded, though inside he was sadly shaking his head.
The search party that was sent out the following day didn't find Timira, and neither did the one sent out the day after that. Kovu never had a chance to attack Simba, for when Simba wasn't surrounded by his lionesses, Kovu was being watched by Chaka. And now Shani had started to follow him around like a cub follows its mother, infinitely curious about him and his life growing up in the Outlands. Kovu tried to remain as secretive as he could, but he found himself having to lie often, and it was very difficult to keep track of a fabricated story of his life and figure out a way to kill Simba at the same time.
In a way, he felt sorry for Shani. She would be heartbroken when her father was killed...and Chaka would be pretty upset about it as well. As for Nala...well, at last she would truly understand how Bianca felt when her mate was murdered.
On the fourth day after Kovu's rescue of Shani, Simba decided to call off the search for Timira long enough for the pride to go hunting. He, Chaka and Kovu rested beneath a large acacia and watched the lionesses hunt, though in actuality Chaka spent most of his time watching Kovu. Shani was with them as well, still reluctant to hunt after the fire and the disappearance of Timira. After the better part of an hour, the lionesses succeeded in taking down a large wildebeest. Simba, his children and Kovu padded over to the kill and the lionesses stepped back to allow Simba and Chaka to eat first, as was the custom. Simba approached the carcass, with Chaka following him. Kovu cautiously stepped towards it as well, but Chaka suddenly stepped in front of him, barring his way.
"Newcomers eat with the lionesses," he growled in a low voice. "Only adult males of royal blood get to eat first."
Kovu, backed away from Chaka, considerably perturbed. He was Scar's son! Wasn't Scar of royal blood? Fuming, he walked away from the kill and sat down several feet from it. Shani immediately bounded to his side.
"Your brother isn't being very welcoming to me," he said to her as Chaka began tearing away at the carcass by Simba's side.
"Well, he does take being the future king pretty seriously," Shani said. "And he's the only male in this pride besides Dad, so having you around is probably making him a little edgy."
"I'd think he'd be more grateful to me for saving your life," he said.
"Maybe he just needs to get to know you better," she suggested.
After everyone in the pride had eaten their fill, the big cats stretched out in the shade of a small grove of trees. Kovu couldn't remember the last time he had eaten such a filling meal. It had left him blissfully happy, so happy that the thought of killing Simba was miles away. For him, there was only this moment, lying in tall, lush grass beneath a cluster of trees thick with bright green leaves, his belly filled and his mind at rest. An eternity seemed to pass before he heard a soft voice speaking to him:
"Kovu? Hey, Kovu?"
It was Shani. Kovu sluggishly sat up and shook his head, annoyed at having his moment of tranquility interrupted.
"What kind of prey is there in the Outlands?"
"Not much," he said. "It's mostly mice and ground squirrels out there. There are also lots of bats in the cave, but they're pretty hard to catch."
"Wow," Shani said. "You mean all the Outlands are just as barren as that part by the river?"
"Yep," Kovu said sadly. "Dry, rocky, hardly any grass, lots of clouds but little rain...makes me wonder why I didn't leave there years ago."
"Goodness," said a weary voice from behind Shani. "Now that sounds familiar."
Kovu and Shani turned. The voice belonged to Nala's mother, Sarafina. Sarafina was quite old now, but though she was no longer strong enough to join in the hunts, she still came out to watch her pride sisters take down prey -- and of course, to eat what they caught.
"What sounds familiar?" Shani asked her grandmother.
"That dry, rocky land with hardly any prey that the young lion was talking about," Sarafina said, "It sounds almost like the way these lands were when Scar was in control."
Kovu stared quizzically at her.
"You mean...during the time there was that drought?" he asked.
"Drought?" Sarafina repeated. "I think it was more than that. No drought I've ever been through lasted as long as that one did. In fact, things seemed to start getting worse just shortly after Scar killed Mufasa and exiled poor Simba..."
If Kovu hadn't been so sternly disciplined, his mouth would have dropped open in shock at these words. Scar killing someone? And exiling Simba? What was this old lioness talking about?
"Erm...Kovu said, trying to sound as calm as he could, "I'm afraid I don't know the history of these lands very well...what exactly happened between Scar and Mufasa?"
Sarafina's tired green eyes widened.
"You don't know?" she said in surprise. "Well, I'd say it's high time you were told, son..."
Kovu lay silently in the grass as Sarafina began to tell her story. She told him how Mufasa and Scar were brothers and how Scar always envied his older brother's position as king of the Pride Lands. When Mufasa's son Simba was a cub, Scar first tried to kill him with the aid of some hyenas he had befriended -- an attack which almost claimed the life of Nala as well.
When that attempt failed, Scar managed to kill Mufasa by throwing him into a wildebeest stampede. Simba survived, but Scar was able to convince him that he was responsible for Mufasa's death and then exiled him. Scar then informed the pride that both Mufasa and Simba were dead, and allowed the hyenas' pack to invade the Pride Lands.
During Scar's reign, Sarafina said, the land became parched and withered and the once abundant herds of animals vanished. Then Bianca and her small pride came to the Pride Lands, and taking pity on them, Scar accepted them and made Bianca his queen. Nala finally left the Pride Lands in the hopes of finding help, but to her astonishment, she found Simba and convinced him to return to his homeland to reclaim his place as the rightful king. When Simba confronted Scar, Scar attempted to kill him again, but Simba fought back and learned the truth about his father's murder. He was then able to force Scar to confess what he had done to the rest of the pride.
"He told us that Scar begged him for mercy when he had him cornered," Sarafina said, her voice growing tired by this point, "And Simba told him to leave the kingdom, but Scar attacked him again. Simba threw him over the edge of Pride Rock, but the fall didn't kill him...his cohorts did."
"His cohorts?" Kovu asked quietly, trying to hide the tremor in his voice.
"The hyenas," Sarafina said, shaking her head sadly. "They must have realized that Scar had only used them to keep us under control, and turned on him. After that, Simba took his place as king...and it's strange, but that very same night, it started to rain in the Pride Lands for the first time since Scar took control. Just a few days after that, the grasses began to sprout, and in a few months, the lands were just as green and plentiful as they had been during Mufasa's reign."
She smiled fondly, no doubt remembering how amazing it had been to see the once dead kingdom coming to life again.
"And a little while after that, Bianca tried to kill Simba, and fearful of letting her and her companions stay in the Pride Lands, Simba banished them to the Outlands. Then some time after that, Shani and Chaka were born, and judging by how old you look, I guess you were born around the same time...and that's pretty much it."
"I see," Kovu said slowly. "Thanks for the...the story."
"Of course," Sarafina smiled.
Kovu's mind spun wildly. It was as if his entire world had been bent, twisted, turned upside-down and inside-out all at the same time. This new knowledge was driving him almost insane with confusion.
Then his confusion began to turn into denial: this lioness had to be lying. She was a Pridelander, and Pridelanders hated Outsiders with a passion and could never be trusted...but his mother had been the one who told him this, and with the exception of Simba and Chaka, none of the Pridelanders seemed to show any malice towards him at all...and hadn't Simba trusted him enough to let him join the pride, go on a couple of those search parties with him and watch the lionesses hunt by his side?
Bianca had also told him that Simba was a no-account rogue who had somehow gained the trust of the lionesses and encouraged them to rebel against Scar, and that Simba had exiled them when he found out that she was Scar's mate and her pride was loyal to him. But Simba being Scar's nephew and Scar killing his own brother? Had Bianca been deliberately keeping this knowledge from Kovu all his life...or was she completely unaware of it?
There so many questions Kovu wanted to ask, but he forced himself to stay silent. From that point on, however, he was a very different lion.
The days dragged on and still, no trace of Timira was found. Masika had grown so upset that she often stayed in a corner of the cave all day, convinced that her daughter was dead. Still, Shani kept telling herself over and over that Timira couldn't be dead. Everything caught in that fire had left bones, and no one had found any lioness's bones amongst the ashes. That convinced her that Timira couldn't have died in the fire, but as for the question of where Timira was, that was one Shani couldn't answer.
Kovu spent much time brooding over what to do about Simba. With this new knowledge that had invaded his mind, he wasn't sure of anything anymore. Was killing Simba truly the right thing to do? Was avenging the death of Scar, a father he had never known who had allowed these lands to fall into ruin, really what he wanted to do?
As for being king...what did he know about ruling a kingdom? All Bianca had ever taught him was how to fight and kill. She hadn't taught him anything about settling disputes with other animals, leading a pride or making difficult decisions. What would happen if Kovu did kill Simba and become king? Would the land wither like it did during Scar's reign without a wise ruler to watch over it?
At times, these questions became too much for Kovu to bear, and again and again, he found himself seeking out the company of the only member of the pride he truly felt at ease with: Shani. Her presence brought back memories of simpler times when he was still just a cub and wasn't saddled with the mission of killing Simba.
After a while, Simba began to trust Kovu enough to let him visit with Shani freely, and even allowed him to sleep in the cave with the rest of the pride. Even Chaka had stopped shadowing Kovu every single day. A few weeks ago, Kovu might have used this opportunity to attack Simba now that his guard was down, but so much had changed since then that Kovu didn't know what he was going to do now. His mother was no doubt wondering what was taking him so long to get the job done, and Kovu couldn't just return to the Outlands and tell her that he had changed his mind about what he had been trained for nearly his entire life, could he?
"What are you thinking about?" Shani asked him.
Kovu shook his head, her voice bringing him back to his senses. He had been so deep in thought that he had almost forgotten where he and Shani were.
Now he saw that they were walking side by side through the Pride Lands, with a clear blue sky overhead and tender green grass beneath their paws. Shani was looking earnestly at him, waiting for his reply.
"Oh," Kovu said. "I was thinking about...these lands."
Shani looked at the wide, grassy plains that surrounded them and smiled.
"Yes," she said quietly. "They're so beautiful during this season."
Then suddenly she became downcast.
"What is it?" Kovu asked.
"I was just thinking about the Outsiders," Shani said. "I know Bianca tried to kill Dad once, but...it just doesn't seem fair that her whole pride should live in a place like the Outlands. I know Scar was your dad and your mom really hates my dad, but you're not like either of them."
"I'm not?" Kovu asked.
"Yeah. You're really nice, and you don't seem to hate any of us...and you can't be the only Outsider who's like that."
She pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment, and then her face brightened.
"Maybe when Chaka is king, we can let the Outsiders come back here...or at least find somewhere better for them to..."
A flock of birds noisily flying over a nearby hill distracted Shani. She gazed inquisitively in the direction the birds had gone.
"What's going on up there?" Kovu wondered out loud.
"I don't know," Shani said. "Let's see."
She broke into a fast trot, eagerly bounding up the hill, with Kovu close behind her. As Shani leapt over the crest of the hill, she almost landed on top of Timon, who screamed in fright at her approach.
"Oh my gosh, I'm sorry, Timon!" Shani said, skidding to a halt just in time.
"Oh, Shani!" Timon gasped. "Thank goodness it's just you."
Kovu came to the top of the hill. From here, he could see a large, bare patch of ground below them covered with a flock of small brown birds -- the same birds he and Shani had seen flying over the hill.
"What are you doing here?" Shani asked.
"Pumbaa and I are trying to find ourselves a few delectable bugs to munch," Timon explained, pointing towards his warthog companion, who stood a few feet away. "And this is the best place in the Pride Lands to find them."
He sighed and gestured towards the many birds that were scratching and pecking at the ground.
"The problem is that these darn birds got here before we did -- and they don't look like they're leaving anytime soon."
He waved his hands at a nearby bird, attempting to shoo it away. The bird merely squawked angrily at him and went back to its digging. Pumbaa was charging the birds in an attempt to scare them away, but the birds would always fly back to their original positions, no matter how many times he lunged at them. Timon put his hands on his hips and stared at the birds, fuming.
"Uh...you think there's anything we could do to help?" Shani asked.
"I dunno, Princess," Timon muttered. "These feathered fiends don't scare easily. It'd take something big to really get them -- "
He suddenly stopped and turned to look at Kovu.
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully. "Hey big guy, maybe you could help us."
"Uh...how?" Kovu asked, staring dubiously at the meerkat.
"Just give 'em a good roar. That oughta send 'em flying."
Kovu looked skeptical for a moment, then inhaled and roared thunderously. The birds immediately took to the air in a wild, squabbling flock. Shani was so caught up in the excitement of the moment that she ran down the hill, scattering what few birds remained and chasing the ones that were already in flight. Kovu took off after her, while Timon whooped exuberantly, and ran and jumped onto Pumbaa's back. With all thoughts of digging for bugs forgotten, the warthog galloped after the two young lions.
Kovu had no idea why he was running after Shani, let alone why Shani was chasing the birds. There didn't seem to be any logical reason for either, and doing so seemed like a pointless waste of energy. However, in some strange way, Kovu was actually enjoying himself, and the more he ran, the happier he became. All that was important to him right now was running through the high grass, with Shani by his side.
The four animals followed the birds into a shallow, rocky gorge. They were having so much fun that they didn't even notice the danger ahead of them until it was almost too late. The gorge opened up onto a field occupied by a large number of rhinoceroses. Kovu, Shani and Pumbaa skidded to a halt just inches away from the nearest rhino's snout. The rhino glared angrily at them and bellowed loudly, and that was all the warning the lions, the meerkat and the warthog needed. They turned tail and ran back up the gorge, with the angry rhinos rumbling after them. After rounding a tight turn, Kovu spotted a small crevice in the rock wall and bolted for it, with Shani, Timon and Pumbaa darting in after him. The rhinos stampeded by their tiny hiding spot, and after a minute or so, the dust had settled and all was quiet.
Though they had all been quite frightened by the close call, now that the danger had passed, Timon, Pumbaa, Shani and even Kovu couldn't help laughing at their little adventure. After a few moments, however, there was a voice from outside the crevice:
"Ah, there you are, Princess Shani. Your father was wondering where you had disappeared to."
It was Zazu. He had alighted at the base of the gorge and was staring disapprovingly at the four of them, especially Shani and Kovu, who were squeezed somewhat close together.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" the hornbill asked.
"Uh...no," Shani said sheepishly, glancing at Kovu. I think we should be getting out of here, though."
"Right," Kovu agreed.
After much grunting, pushing and pulling, they had all freed themselves from the confines of the crevice. Timon hopped onto Pumbaa's back again.
"Say, Zazu," the meerkat said. "Where's your girlfriend? I thought I'd see her riding one of those rhinos, but I didn't."
"Binti?" Zazu asked, growing a little uneasy at the mention of her. "I'm afraid I haven't seen much of her or that rhino of hers either. They should be around here somewhere, though."
Timon nodded, but his face showed that he wasn't completely satisfied by Zazu's answer, and Shani could understand why. She hadn't seen Binti or Winston in weeks. The two of them didn't even show up when Shani and Timira were preparing to go on their hunt. It was so strange --she had often seen Binti and Zazu talking together or preening each other, and Zazu would sometimes give Binti a little present like a bunch of berries or a small flower. Why had she suddenly disappeared, and why was Zazu being so nonchalant about her going missing? Had something unfortunate happened to her and was Zazu pretending that she was all right, like Shani was doing with Timira?
No, Shani told herself. Timira is alive. She has to be. She'll come back soon.
This time, however, a tiny, desperate voice in the back of her mind added:
Please...please let her be all right.
Shani and Kovu spent the evening watching the stars. When Shani told him how her father told her how the Great Kings of the Past looked down at their descendants from the heavens, a sadness filled Kovu's heart as he wondered if Scar was among them as well. Why did he find himself so drawn to the daughter of the lion he was supposed to kill, and why did she seem to like him as well? Why didn't the fact that he was Scar's son and heir frighten her at all? Why did she put so much trust into the lion whose parents had both tried to kill her father?
As the two lions looked up at the night sky, Simba watched them from atop a nearby knoll. Though he had accepted Kovu into the pride, he still couldn't forget what Bianca had said about him so long ago about Kovu becoming the new king when her pride had reclaimed the Pride Lands.
Simba looked up to the vast sea of stars that shimmered overhead, recalling that night so long ago that Mufasa had told him about them...just a few days before he had been taken from Simba too many years too soon. If only he and Sarabi could be here now. Father, Mother, I don't know what I should do, Simba thought. Kovu is an Outsider only by birth, but...he's still one of them. Did really I do the right thing by allowing him into this pride?
Simba turned his head. Nala had padded up to his side. She looked down at Shani and Kovu, who were now gently nuzzling each other.
"You still don't trust him, do you?" she asked Simba.
Simba sighed and shook his head.
"How can I?" he said. "He's Scar's son. What if he's just like Scar and is only hiding that part of himself from us?"
Nala looked sadly at the dark young lion sitting beside her daughter.
"Simba, he never even knew Scar," she said quietly. "And if there was anything in him like Scar, I'm sure we would have noticed it by now. Scar had so much hate in him, just like Bianca does now...but Kovu doesn't."
Simba frowned, then looked down at Shani and Kovu again. As Shani gently rubbed her head against Kovu's, a great change suddenly took place in Kovu's mind. It was that moment that he knew that he wasn't going to do what he had been trained his entire life to do. He wasn't going to kill Simba because Shani was his daughter...and Kovu was in love with her.
As Shani and Kovu made their way back to Pride Rock, they were unaware of a gaunt, shadowy figure following them at a distance. The figure tailed them until they neared Pride Rock, then crouched beside a large boulder and waited. As Kovu and Shani reached the peak of Pride Rock, Simba stepped out of the cave to greet them. The figure tensed in excitement at the sight of him, and her blue eyes grew wide.
Shani entered the cave first, leaving Simba and Kovu alone in the open. Then they too began to make their way towards the cave.
"Get him!" the figure whispered nervously. "What are you waiting for, Kovu? Get him!"
Simba and Kovu entered the cave, vanishing from sight. With a snarl of both shock and rage, Shetani bolted from her hiding place beside the boulder and bounded away, heading back to the Outlands.
Bianca had been right when she said that something might have gone wrong with Kovu's mission. Now Shetani had seen the proof of this with her own eyes. Had Kovu really betrayed the Outsiders? He couldn't, Shetani kept telling herself. He couldn't...
As the next day dawned, Kovu left the cave and walked towards the peak of Pride Rock, wondering what he was going to do. He couldn't keep lying to Shani and her family, especially now that he'd truly realized his feelings for her. But what would she think of him once he told her? What would her father think? Would they believe him, or would they banish him like they had done with his mother?
After several worried minutes, Kovu gathered up his courage and walked back to the cave. Shani was there to meet him as he entered.
"Shani," he said, "I need to talk to you..."
"Wait," said a stern voice from behind Shani. Simba appeared out of the shadows, walking towards Kovu.
"I want to talk to you first, Kovu," he said quietly.
Kovu trembled slightly. What did Simba want with him? Had he started to suspect him? Kovu glanced at Shani, who glanced at her father and shrugged, apparently just as puzzled by his words as Kovu was.
Simba left the cave and Kovu obediently followed him out into the sunlight. They continued down the slope of Pride Rock until they reached the ground, and then continued walking across the savannah. Shani watched them from the mouth of the cave with great curiosity.
Simba led Kovu into the region of the Pride Lands that had been consumed by the fire. Though it had been weeks since the blaze, the ground was still covered in ash and the air was still hazy and dark. Still, some of the trees had started to sprout leaves again, and tender shoots of grass could occasionally be seen poking through the dusty, grey carpet that blanketed the land.
Not far away was the Zuberi River, running through a deep, high-walled gorge. However, this section of it was almost completely dry because of a huge wall of logs and debris that had formed a tall dam further up the gorge. It had been like this for many seasons, and Simba didn't know when the dam was going to break -- if indeed it ever would.
"Scar couldn't let go of his hate," Simba said. "And in the end, it destroyed him."
"Yes," Kovu said quietly. "Sarafina said the same thing about Scar being...being a killer."
"Fire is a killer," he said, gesturing to the burnt desolation that surrounded them. He stopped walking and Kovu halted as well.
"But sometimes what's left behind can grow better than the generation before..."
He leaned down and brushed some of the ash at their feet aside. Kovu leaned down as well to see a pale green sprig that had been buried beneath the ash.
"...If given the chance," Simba said.
Suddenly, Simba's head shot up, and so did Kovu's. Both of them had heard a noise coming from nearby, but it was impossible to see where it was coming from. Then several dark shapes began emerging from the thick haze. A cold shudder ran through Kovu as he realized what those shapes were.
"No..." he said in a low voice. "Oh no..."
The Outsiders slowly became visible and drew closer to Simba and Kovu from all sides, forming a tight circle around them. Bianca and Shetani were standing directly in front of them.
"Bianca," Simba growled, his fur bristling.
"Why, Simba," Bianca grinned. "What are you doing all the way out here?"
She turned to Kovu.
"Excellent work, my son," she purred. "I knew you wouldn't fail us."
Simba's eyes widened. Then he glared furiously at Kovu.
"You," he snarled.
"No," Kovu cried. "No, I had nothing to do with this!"
"Attack!" Bianca yelled.
In the blink of an eye, two Outsider lionesses lunged at Simba, one jumping on his back, the other going for his throat. Simba roared in anger and tried to swat them away. Kovu stood frozen in horror for a moment, then tried to attack the lionesses in the hopes of giving Simba a chance to escape. However, Simba, thinking that Kovu was trying to attack him, roared angrily when Kovu approached, and Kovu backed away. Simba managed to get rid of the lioness that had been on his back, but now two more had jumped at him, and Shetani had joined the fray as well.
His horror now completely replaced by rage at seeing his pride attack the father of the lioness he had fallen in love with, Kovu snarled and leapt at the lionesses again, but this time he was hit in the head by a stray hind foot and was sent sprawling across the dusty ground.
By the time his head stopped spinning, he looked up to see Simba with more than a half-dozen lionesses clinging to him. To his terror, Kovu then realized that Simba was only a few feet away from the edge of the cliff that overlooked the gorge. Before he could even gather enough breath to shout out a warning, Simba had toppled over the edge of the cliff. Most of the lionesses leapt off him and stood on atop the cliff, staring down after him, along with Bianca.
Before the shock of this event could hit Kovu, Bianca called out:
"He's still alive! After him, all of you!"
The lionesses began leaping over the edge of the cliff. When they had all vanished, Kovu hurried to the cliff to see that Simba was indeed alive, and so were the rest of the Outsiders. The way to the bottom of the gorge wasn't a sheer drop at all, but a steep incline that could be rolled or slid down. Kovu raced down the incline as fast as he could, trying to catch up with the Outsiders, who were only a short distance behind Simba.
Simba ran up the gorge, trying not to let the pain of the wounds the Outsiders had given him slow him down. He had to get out, but how? The walls on either side of him were too steep to climb, and the only thing ahead of him was...
The dam. But how could he possibly climb it? It was almost as high as the gorge itself, and those logs could easily give way under his weight...still, as unpleasant an option as it was, it was the only one available to him.
It wasn't long before Simba came to the base of the dam. He stared up at the great wall of logs that towered above him, doubt starting to fill his heart. Then he heard the angry snarls of the Outsiders approaching him, and he knew that he would have to climb up the dam or die trying. He wasn't going to die at the paws of Scar's widow.
Simba leapt at the wall of logs, trying to get a grip on them with his front paws while scrambling for a foothold with his hind paws. Slowly but surely, he started to ascend the dam. Occasionally, he would feel a log give way underneath him, but he was still able to hold on to the ones above him with his claws.
When Simba was nearly halfway up the dam, he suddenly wondered whether any of the Outsiders might be climbing up after him. Clinging to the logs for dear life, he cautiously looked over his shoulder.
To his relief, he saw that all of the Outsiders were gathered at the base of the dam far below him. Either they thought that climbing after Simba was simply too great a risk...or they were waiting for him to fall. But some distance behind them, running towards the dam at great speed with a fierce snarl on his face...
Simba's eyes narrowed. That lying, conniving son of a murderer! Why hadn't Simba seen it before? That whole "I left my pride" story was all a scam, and now here he was, coming to finish the job the Outsiders had failed to do!
Simba's anger seemed to give him renewed strength. He began to claw his way up again, ignoring the stabbing pain from his wounds and his dull aching limbs, determined to make his way to the top alive. For his family's sake, he had to.
"He's getting away!" Bianca bellowed. "Shetani, after him!"
Shetani hesitated, staring up at the treacherous wall of logs. Suddenly, Simba loosened another log, which came bouncing down the dam wall and crashing just a few feet away from where the pride stood.
"Come on!" Bianca raged. "This may be our only chance! After him!"
But before Shetani could make a move, a dark blur sped in front of her and stopped in front of the assembled Outsiders. It was Kovu. His green eyes flashed angrily as he stood with his back to the dam, staring at his mother. Bianca glared at him.
"Kovu, what is wrong with you?" she thundered. "You're letting the brute that killed your father escape us!"
"No I'm not," said Kovu coldly.
"What?" Bianca demanded. "What are you talking about?"
"Simba didn't kill Scar," Kovu said levelly. "Scar's soldiers did when he betrayed them."
"Rubbish!" Bianca stormed. "Those deceitful Pridelanders have been filling your head full of stories, trying to get you to trust them. Don't fall for their lies, son. Your father would never have done such a thing!"
"I suppose he would never have killed his own brother as well!" Kovu shot back.
Bianca fell silent, her face confused for a moment. Then it resumed its typical snarl.
"What is this about a brother?" she asked scornfully.
"He didn't tell you, then?" Kovu asked. "He didn't tell you how he became king?"
Again, Bianca paused briefly before replying:
"Why should something such as that matter? Scar's father was obviously a king, so when that king died, he took his place. What more is there to know?"
"What's more to know is that he killed his older brother to become king!" Kovu shouted. "And then he exiled his own nephew -- Simba!"
A collective gasp rose up from the Outsiders. What had come over Kovu? Why was he suddenly defending the lions he had been taught to hate and distrust and badmouthing his own father? Shetani, however, was even more shocked than the others. Could what her brother was saying be true? Bianca wouldn't lie to them...would she?
"Lies!" Bianca spat. "All lies! Snap out of it, Kovu!"
"All right," Kovu said. "If I'm lying, then tell me the truth: why were you and the Outsiders exiled from the Pridelands?"
He stared deeply into Bianca's eyes with such an intensity that Bianca could almost feel them staring into her mind.
"I've told you," she said. "I've told you a thousand times. Simba exiled us when he found out we supported Scar."
"No, he didn't," Kovu said quietly. "I've been watching Simba for weeks now, and I know what he's really like. He's not the tyrant you told us he was, Mother. He isn't a lion that would exile a pride of lionesses just because they supported the lion he killed. There was something else that made him do it, wasn't there, Mother?"
The Outsiders exchanged frightened glances. Bianca began to tremble with rage.
"Stop it," she hissed. "Stop it at once!"
"Did you even see Simba kill Scar?" Kovu said in an even lower voice. "Or see what his body looked like after he was dead?"
Bianca suddenly swiped at her son's face with her claws extended. Kovu roared with pain and staggered back, his head down. Then he raised it to stare at his mother, breathing heavily. Across his left eye was a broad, vertical cut. Bianca recoiled in shock at what she had done, still angry but astonished at her son, who now resembled his father even more.
Without another word, Kovu ran through the group of lionesses, who snarled and growled as he passed by, but did nothing to stop him. He kept running down the gorge, heading back to the incline.
"Let him go," Bianca growled. "He is no son of mine any longer...and we have Simba to blame for this."
She padded away from them, then leapt onto a large boulder to address them with more authority.
"But don't worry," she continued. "We don't need Kovu now. Simba is injured and weak. We must attack him and his pride now! By sunrise tomorrow, the Pride Lands shall be ours!"
The lionesses all roared their approval, but as enthusiastic as their ovation was, there was now a tiny fragment of doubt inside of each of them, especially Shetani. Had Bianca truly lied to her children about the reason why Simba had exiled them? And what if that wasn't the only thing she had lied about?
Once he had reached the top of the dam, Simba had been able to easily climb out of the gorge, but by then his strength was failing and it took all of his strength to make the long journey back to Pride Rock. The sun was low in the sky before he came close to it. Shani, Chaka and Zazu were waiting at the base of Pride Rock, wondering where Simba and Kovu had gone and why they were taking so long. When they spotted Simba approaching with a definite limp and Kovu nowhere near him, Shani hurriedly told Zazu to get help, then ran to her father's side, along with her brother.
"Father!" Chaka gasped. "What happened?"
"Kovu..." Simba wheezed, cringing in pain. "Ambush..."
He fell over onto his side. Shani stared at her father in bewilderment. Kovu had tried to hurt her father. He couldn't have -- he just couldn't! The Kovu she knew would never do something like that...
Chaka leaned his body against his father's, trying to help him to his feet. By then, several of the lionesses had arrived, with Nala among them, together, they slowly helped Simba back to Pride Rock. Shani, however, stayed at the back of the group, trying in vain to make sense out of what had happened.
The pain in the cut over Kovu's eye had subsided by the time he was nearing Pride Rock. By then, the sun was setting, and he was surprised to see a large hoard of animals clustered around the base of Pride Rock. News of Simba's misfortune had spread quickly, and many of the residents of the Pride Lands had gathered, concerned that their king's death might not be far off.
He nervously made his way through the large, varied group, and animals of all species shied away from him as he neared them, creating a narrow path towards Pride Rock. He could hear nervous, frantic whispers among them, and slowly began to suspect that returning to Simba's pride had been a very bad idea. He was getting ready to make a hasty retreat when he heard an angry snarl from the peak of Pride Rock. It was Simba. He had spotted Kovu, and Kovu knew that it was too late to run away now.
"Why have you come back?" Simba said coldly.
Kovu looked up at him, trying to humble himself as much as he could. Chaka was standing at Simba's right side, and to his left were Nala and Shani. Both Simba and Chaka had angry looks on their faces, but Nala seemed worried, and Shani looked downright terrified. She kept on glancing from Simba to Kovu and back again, wondering what her father was going to do.
"Simba, listen to me," Kovu said. "That ambush wasn't my fault! I had nothing to do with it!"
"I trusted you, Kovu," Simba growled. "That's a mistake I won't make again."
"No," Kovu begged. "You don't understand -- it was all Bianca's plan. I was trying to -- "
"Enough!" Simba shouted.
"Dad, please listen to him!" Shani pleaded.
Simba turned to her.
"Quiet!" he snapped.
He turned back to Kovu. Kovu, the son of Scar, so similar to him in every detail...and now even bearing the mark over his eye that had earned Scar his namesake.
"I should known from the moment you asked to join this pride that you are as much a liar as your father was," Simba said. "But you won't be killing me or anyone else in my pride."
The animals on either side of Kovu began to grow more vocal, some of them flinging insults at Kovu or giving words of encouragement to Simba.
"No, please -- " Kovu said.
"Leave the Pride Lands and never return," Simba commanded.
"No!" Shani screamed.
As if they had all become a single unit, all the animals began forming a solid wall in front of Kovu, driving him backwards, away from Pride Rock.
"Simba, wait!" Kovu screamed, trying his best to fight the animals back. "Please! At least let me -- "
"Leave!" Simba roared.
"Kovu!" Shani cried. She tried to run towards him but Chaka bounded in front of her, blocking her way.
"Shani!" Kovu yelled back. He tried his best to make himself heard, but Simba wouldn't stop cutting him off. He kept attempting to push his way through the animals until he realized that he was fighting a losing battle and he was going to get himself killed if he continued doing it. He turned and fled, with many of the animals chasing after him. Even after his lungs had grown sore from running, several of them were still hot on his heels. He kept running until he could no longer hear them following him, then paused and took one last sorrowful look towards Pride Rock, and then continued running.
Simba stood at the peak of Pride Rock, watching Kovu retreat. Many of the animals that had surrounded Pride Rock were gone now, and those that weren't were quickly leaving. When Simba could no longer make out the dark lion amidst the vast fields, he turned around, where Shani, Nala and Chaka were waiting for him. Shani padded up to him, almost in tears.
"Dad, how could you do that?" she cried.
Simba glared at her.
"Don't you see?" he said. "He used you to get to me!"
"No!" Shani protested. "He loves me!"
"He pretended to love you," Chaka chimed in. "I should have known...I never trusted that Outsider."
"But Simba," Nala said, "If he really did try to attack you like he said, why would he come back here, knowing you knew he was guilty?"
"Probably trying to play the innocent part," Chaka remarked before Simba could respond. "That's what I would do if I were in his place."
Nala stared sternly at him.
"I was talking to your father," she said coldly.
"Still, I think he's right," Simba said. "He must have been desperate to try a trick like that, though..."
"But you didn't even let him defend himself," Nala said, raising her voice. "You said yourself that he denied having anything to do with the ambush when it started!"
"That's right," Shani said. "And I know he couldn't have done it, Dad. He just couldn't have! Kovu wouldn't have done something like that!"
Chaka suddenly glared stonily at his sister.
"Just like Timira wouldn't have died in the fire?" he roared.
Everyone fell silent. Even Simba's anger was momentarily gone as he stared at his son in a stunned silence.
"Deny it all you want," Chaka snarled at Shani, "But one of these days, you've got to face the truth. Timira is dead and Kovu was trying to kill our father all along. You can't live in a fantasy world forever, Shani."
Shani backed away from her brother, shocked by his sudden outburst and even closer to tears. She had never seen this side of her brother before in all her life. Could this mean there was also a side to Kovu she had never seen? No, she thought automatically. No, it can't be. Kovu isn't a killer. He isn't...
"Chaka, what's come over you?" Nala demanded once she had recovered from her surprise.
"Mother, I'm just as upset about it as everybody else, but we can't keep pretending that Timira is still out there somewhere. She's gone, and I'll have to accept that, and so should Shani."
"Whatever happened to Timira, you didn't have to yell at your sister like you did," Simba said. "Especially after what happened with her and Kovu."
"I knew she wouldn't listen to me any other way!" Chaka yelled. "I had to get it through her head somehow!"
"But we don't even know that Kovu is really guilty or not," Nala said. "You might have just exiled an innocent lion, Simba!"
"He is Scar's son," Simba retorted. "His mother said that he was going to be the future king...and it looks like whatever plan she had involved using him to kill me."
"But just because he is Scar's son doesn't necessarily mean that he is like Scar!" Nala cried.
Simba, Nala and Chaka continued to argue angrily as Shani sat nearby, completely forgotten by them. She was thinking about Timira...and Kovu. Chaka was only half right. Though she had no way of knowing what had happened to Timira, she knew that Kovu hadn't tried to kill her father. She knew there was some good in him and that he truly loved her. She had to find him...but how?
Shani looked up at her parents and her brother and realized that none of them were facing her. She then looked behind her at the main cave and saw that she was out of sight of any lionesses that could be looking out through the cave's mouth. She slowly got to her feet and began to creep away, towards the slope that led down to the ground. Her family continued bickering as she moved away from them, and she heard no shouts of alarm as she descended the slope.
Once she reached the ground, she hurried into the tall, golden grass and crouched down, making herself hidden among the dense blades. She crawled along until she got to the other side of a large hill -- a place that she knew couldn't be seen from Pride Rock. There, she got to her feet and began to run, following the route she had seen Kovu take. She followed his scent until she reached a small stream. She crossed it and quickly picked it up again, but by this time she had grown so tired that she couldn't run anymore. She walked along, thinking of Kovu, his mother, her father, her brother, her pride and the Outsiders. Why did her father have to hate them so much, when what they tried to do was so long ago? Why couldn't he see that Kovu was innocent?
Shani looked up at the sky. Night was approaching quickly, and Shani shivered. She had never been this far from home alone before, especially at night. Maybe if she found Kovu, she would be safe...
Kovu walked through the ash-covered wasteland that had once been blanketed with tall, lush grass and large trees. The place looked even eerier by night, and just as empty and desolate as Kovu's heart. Where could he go now? Back to Bianca, who seemed convinced that he had betrayed her and her pride? Back to Simba, and risk death trying to explain himself again? To some other land in the hopes of living on his own?
There seemed to be no good answer to his question. Kovu felt that he had lost everything: his pride, his trust in his mother, his belief that his father was a noble king, his love...
He paused. No, he hadn't lost his love. He knew that Shani still loved him. The way she had reacted when he was exiled proved that she did. If only he could find her...but there didn't seem to be any hope of that. Shani was still at Pride Rock, and Kovu knew what Simba would do to him if he returned there again.
Would he have still killed Simba if he hadn't fallen in love with Shani, Kovu wondered. Would the truth about Scar alone be enough to convince him, or would he have dismissed it as more lies from the Pridelanders? His thoughts suddenly shifted to his mother and his pride. What were they doing now that he was gone? Had Bianca given up, or was she formulating a different plan? Though Kovu doubted that the thin, undernourished lionesses in his pride could defeat the well-fed lionesses in Simba pride plus two males, he still feared for Simba and his family...even his overly defensive son.
Kovu began growing uncomfortable, so he tried thinking of something more pleasant: Shani. If only he could see her again and talk to her again...somehow, that was all that really mattered to him at the moment. She was the only one he could turn to now. If only he could find her, everything would be all right...
Then suddenly, there she was. She was sitting on top of a low hill covered with ash a short distance away, her fur shining like white gold in the moonlight. Her back was turned to him, but Kovu could tell by the slump of her head and shoulders that she was just as unhappy as he was. He paused, wondering if this was just an illusion or a dream. Then the wind carried her scent over to him and he knew that he wasn't dreaming. He slowly stepped forward, overcome with joy.
Shani's ears pricked up at his approach and she slowly turned around to look at him. Her eyes were wide with disbelief at first, then she smiled a warm, innocent smile that made Kovu's heart race. She stood up and ran to meet him just as Kovu came running to her. They nuzzled each other warmly, feeling as if they had reunited for the first time in years. It seemed as if there was nothing in the world except the two of them, standing together on this dusty gray plain.
Though neither of them were aware of it, the wind had become stronger during their embrace. As they stood together, it blew across the ash-covered ground, clearing away the gray flecks to reveal fresh young grass beneath it. In just a few minutes, the ground around them had turned from gray to green.
Far away from Shani and Kovu, Bianca and the rest of the Outsiders were leaving the Outlands. In the distance, a storm was gathering, and the rumble of thunder could be heard. Bianca led the Outsiders through a narrow section of the Zuberi River that was too shallow for crocodiles. The Outsiders waded through the still water, and when they came out on the other side, they were heavily caked in dark mud. They continued towards the center of the Pride Lands.
Bianca knew that they would win. It didn't matter that Kovu would no longer be their king. All that mattered now was that Simba was dead and that the Pride Lands were theirs again.
"Kovu," Shani said slowly, "you really love me, don't you?"
Kovu, who was lying beside Shani in the grass, nodded solemnly.
"And what you said about not being part of that ambush...it's true?"
"Yes," Kovu said earnestly. "It's true, I swear it's true."
Shani nervously glanced at the scar on Kovu's face.
"Then...you never were planning to kill my dad?"
Kovu cringed, then made up his mind that he wasn't going to lie to Shani a second more. He told her the whole story, about how Bianca had decided to train him to infiltrate Simba's pride by saving Shani, then kill Simba once Kovu had gained his trust, letting the Outsiders return to the Outlands. He told her about his reluctant acceptance of this plan and how Bianca had lied to him about Simba being a rogue that exiled the Outsiders just because of their allegiance to Scar. He explained how he had learned the truth from Simba and Sarafina, and now realized that he loved Shani, and would do everything he could to protect her and her family.
As he spoke these words, it felt as if a great weight had lifted from his heart. When he finished speaking, for one brief, terrified moment, he feared that Shani would fear him now that she knew that he had been trained to be a killer. However, though she gazed at him in shock for a moment, her face soon softened, then she smiled that warm smile of hers again.
"I knew it," she said. "I knew I was right about you, Kovu. I just knew it."
She leaned against him and nuzzled him affectionately.
"I was so worried about you when Dad banished you," she said. "I didn't know where you'd gone..."
She pulled away from him, looking worried.
"..But what'll we do now?"
"Well," Kovu sighed, "Your father doesn't want me in his lands again...and my mother doesn't want me either..."
He turned to her and grinned.
"What do you say you and me run away together and start a pride of our own?"
Shani giggled at this, but then suddenly became strangely solemn.
"What?" Kovu asked, puzzled.
"The prides," Shani explained. "We can't just leave them like this. We've got to do something."
"Like what?" Kovu asked dubiously.
Shani gazed down at the ground.
"I don't know," she said. "But I know we've got to do it...and soon."
Simba paced back and forth inside the cave, both angry and afraid. He was angry at himself and his family for not keeping a closer eye on Shani, angry at the sudden rain that had fallen and washed away her scent, making it impossible to track her down, and worried what might happen to Shani if she tried meeting up with that Kovu again. Nala, Chaka, Timon and Pumbaa watched him quietly from nearby.
"No worries, Simba," Pumbaa said. "Shani's smart. I know she'd know if she was doing something dumb, you know."
"She may be smart, but she's in love...or at least thinks she is," said Simba. His rage had subsided somewhat since his argument with Chaka and Nala, but he was still mad. "No matter what I told her, she didn't want to think that he doesn't love her back."
"Sheesh," Timon muttered. "I know love is blind, but I didn't think it was deaf too."
There was a sudden flutter of wings as Zazu swooped into the cave, hovering frantically in front of Simba. Simba stopped pacing and looked at him, instantly sensing that something was wrong from the terrified look on the hornbill's face.
"What is it, Zazu?"
"It's the Outsiders, Sire!" Zazu panted. "They're headed this way! It's war!"
Simba gasped in shock. Nala's green eyes widened and Chaka rose to his feet.
"Zazu, find Shani!" Simba commanded. "We'll gather everyone who is able to fight."
Zazu nodded and flew out into the heavy rain. Simba turned to his mate and son.
"Hurry," he urged. "Let's move! Now!"
The many slumbering animals of the Pride Lands sprang awake and fled in terror the approach of the Outsiders. The mud-covered lionesses were slowly making their way towards Pride Rock as the rain intensified and lightning illuminated the heavy clouds overhead.
Simba's pride was also on the move. Everyone in the pride was with Simba, however, Simba had insisted that Timon and Pumbaa stay at Pride Rock for their own safety, and the elderly Sarafina and the still distraught Masika were also remaining behind.
It didn't take the pride long to spot the Outsiders making their way across a barren, rocky plain on the Pride Lands side of the Zuberi River, not too far away by the dam that Simba had climbed up just hours before. Though he was still in pain from the Outsiders' attack, Simba knew that he had to fight if push came to shove. He couldn't let the Outsiders win. These were his father's lands, and he had to defend them at any cost...even if that cost was his own life.
The two prides met in the middle of the plain. The ground was slick with rain, and there were no other animals besides the lions to be seen. Bianca stood on a tall rock, glaring down at Simba.
"It's over, Simba," she growled. "For both you and your little prince."
Chaka snarled at this remark.
"It doesn't have to be like this, Bianca," Simba said. "Killing me won't bring Scar back. It will only cause this pride more sorrow."
"Sorrow?" Bianca scoffed. "The sorrow you've caused me is ten times what your little pride will ever know!"
She narrowed her eyes.
"These lands will be ours," she said in a low voice.
Then she lifted her head high and roared loudly -- a signal for her pride to attack. The Outsiders began to approach Simba's pride. Then Simba roared, and his pride began to advance as well. The two sides approached each other first at a walk, then a fast trot, then a full-out run. They met with a slashing of claws and a cacophony of snarls. The lanky Outsiders fought just as fiercely as the much fitter Pridelanders, attacking only the lionesses...they could only take down Simba once the rest of his pride was out of the way.
Though Chaka had had little experience in fighting, he grappled with the lionesses with surprising skill. He quickly threw them off his back as soon as they leapt onto him, and sometimes his roar alone was enough to unnerve his opponents enough to subdue them.
Though Nala also fought fiercely, her strategy was primarily defensive rather than offensive. She knew that Simba was the lionesses' target, and if she could keep them away from him long enough, perhaps their side would tire out quicker. However, it was difficult for her to fight the Outsiders. She had lived alongside most of them during Scar's reign, and even though she had never considered any of them her friends, she just couldn't see them as enemies either. Still, their leader had tried to kill Simba, and they had supported Scar...there didn't seem to be any easy way to resolve the problem of the Outsiders. There had to be something that could be done...
Shani and Kovu dashed through the rain, frantically looking right and left for any side of their respective prides. They were nearing Pride Rock, but as they drew closer, there didn't seem to be any sign of Shani's pride, and with the rain, there was no way of tracking the pride down by their scent either.
As Shani and Kovu glanced wildly about, wondering what was going on, they heard a low grunt, and whirled around to see a large rhinoceros standing behind them. Kovu jumped back, but Shani stood her ground, staring at the rhino in amazement.
"Winston?" she cried.
The rhino grunted in response.
"You know this thing?" Kovu asked, astounded.
The rhino turned its huge head in Kovu's direction and snorted angrily.
"Yes, he's a friend," Shani said. "Well, sort of."
"Think he knows where your pride is?" Kovu asked.
To his even greater astonishment, the rhino nodded.
"He does!" Shani said excitedly. "Winston, can you please show us where the pride is?"
Winston nodded again, then slowly began to turn around.
"And you'd better make it -- " Kovu began, but before he could say the word "fast", Winston had taken off at full speed, and Shani and Kovu had to run as fast as they could to keep with him.
On the rocky plain, the fight raged on. Several lionesses on either side had crawled to the sidelines, too weak to fight any longer. Bianca was still perched atop her rock, yelling out orders to her pride, her enthusiasm causing the mud to fly wildly from her pale body.
Nala swatted one lioness aside only to find Shetani standing before her. Strangely, Shetani didn't attack her immediately. Instead, she stared with what looked like confusion mixed with pensiveness. Then Bianca barked out another command, and Shetani's expression immediately became a hateful sneer. She lunged at Nala, pinning her to the ground, and it was all Nala could do to keep the young lioness from clawing her face.
Several of the Outsiders had managed to get at Simba, but he had easily been able to throw them aside. However, his wounds were beginning to hurt more now, and his pride wouldn't be able to hold back the Outsiders forever. It was only a matter of time before something gave...
Winston skidded to a stop atop a high knoll. Shani and Kovu caught up a few moments later, panting with exhaustion.
"Where are they?" Shani wheezed, her head still hanging as she tried to catch her breath.
Winston grunted and with his head, gestured at the bare, rocky plain that lay some distance ahead. The two young lions looked at the plain and stood frozen in shock. From their vantage point atop the knoll, they could clearly see the Pridelanders and the Outsiders battling each other. Shani could see her parents and her brother, and Kovu could see his mother and his sister. The howls and snarls of the fight could be heard even above the heavy rain, and the thought of approaching such a brutal event made Shani grow fearful, but with Kovu by her side, somehow she felt that she could do it.
They said a quick thank-you to Winston and hurried down the knoll, heading towards the warring prides.
Though Chaka had fought valiantly, he had failed to conserve his strength wisely. He found himself tiring rapidly, and before he knew it, several of the Outsiders had jumped on top of him. However, they weren't trying to kill him, but were only subduing him. At first, Chaka didn't understand why they were doing this, but then he looked up and saw that a large gang of Outsiders had gotten past the defensive lines of his pride and was charging at Simba. Chaka cried out to his father but was unable to free himself to help him. What the Outsiders lacked in weight they made up for in number. As thin and wiry as they were, they could easily overpower a grown lion if there were enough of them.
For a moment, it seemed like the Outsiders were doing the same thing to Simba as they had to Chaka, pinning him down until he was unable to move. Simba tried his best to throw them off, but the lionesses kept piling on top of him until it seemed like they were trying to crush him into the ground. Then a sinister voice came from somewhere out of Chaka's field of vision:
"Get off him! He's mine!"
Chaka turned to see Bianca flanked by two Outsiders, all of them walking towards Simba. At her words, the Outsiders quickly peeled off Simba and stepped back. Bianca slowly approached Simba and Simba began limping towards her. A hush fell over the battlefield as both sides watched their leaders preparing to fight one another. Chaka struggled to free himself, but to no avail. Nala was being restrained by several more Outsiders, and was just as unable to help her mate as her son was.
Simba and Bianca circled each other, sizing each other up. Bianca sneered confidently at the weak, injured lion before her, the lion that had killed her beloved Scar, exiled her pride and turned her own son against her...the lion that had hurt her for the last time.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Bianca roared in triumph and raised a paw with its sharp, black claws exposed, ready to make the first blow. Simba snarled and raised one of his own paws to defend himself. Suddenly, he noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively, he turned just in time to see his daughter leap in front of him...and she wasn't alone. Beside her was the dark-maned, green-eyed son of Scar: Kovu.
Both Bianca and Simba froze, the paws they had lifted just moments before now planted on the ground. Shani and Kovu had leapt into the middle of the battlefield, separating the two sides. Shani was facing her father while Kovu was facing his mother. Both of them glared sternly at their respective parents, who stared back at them in confusion and annoyance.
"Shani?" Simba said, bewildered.
Bianca bared her teeth at Kovu.
"What are you doing here, traitor?" she snarled. "Get out of the way!"
"Dad, this has to stop," Shani begged. "Whatever the Outsiders might have done...it's over now. They can't stay our enemies forever."
"Shani, Kovu tried to kill me," Simba said. "How can you say that -- "
A sudden flurry of noise and movement interrupted him. With the Outsiders that were restraining him caught off guard, Chaka was able to wriggle out of their clutches and come running towards Simba. With a fierce roar, Chaka lunged at Kovu and pinned him to the ground. Shani cried out in fear, and all the lions on both sides gasped in surprise.
Chaka's jade green eyes narrowed into slits as he looked at the dark brown lion that lay beneath him.
"You Outsiders don't learn fast, do you?" he growled contemptuously at Kovu through clenched teeth. "When you're banished from the Pride Lands, you're supposed to stay away from them. Didn't your mother ever teach you what the word 'banished' means?"
"Listen," Kovu hissed, "I only came back because of Shani. I didn't want our prides to keep fighting anymore."
"Meaning you want to kill my father so you can have my sister all to yourself," Chaka snarled. "That would sure put an end to the fighting."
Simba cautiously approached Chaka, barely comprehending what was going on. Even though Simba had grown firmly convinced that Kovu was his enemy, something within him cried out that Chaka shouldn't be attacking him. Was this really the shy, quiet cub that Simba had raised to be the future king of the Pridelands? Simba called out his son's name, but his words fell on deaf ears. Chaka continued staring aggressively down at Kovu.
Kovu tried to think of what he could possibly do. If he tried fighting Chaka, Simba's pride would probably attack him, and if he didn't fight Chaka, Chaka would probably kill him. No matter which way he looked at it, it seemed that there was no way out.
"I knew that I shouldn't have trusted you," Chaka said coldly, "I knew it from the first moment I saw you. Well, you're not going to hurt my father or my pride now...or ever again..."
The prince raised a paw, its claws fully extended. Shani screamed and ran to her brother's side, trying to stop him. Shetani came running towards them as well, preparing to leap at Chaka, and Nala managed to free herself from the Outsiders pinning her down and run towards Chaka as well. The rest of the Outsiders watched the unfolding scene in horror, not sure what to do, and even Bianca was paralyzed with fear. Despite what she had done to him hours before, Kovu was still her son, and the one hope she had had that her mate's legacy would live on.
Then, just before Chaka was about to strike Kovu, he suddenly heard a faint voice calling to him -- a voice so plaintive, so gentle and so familiar that the tension in Chaka's body and the anger in his heart seemed to vanish in an instant.
Slowly, as if in a dream, he lowered his paw and looked up, staring in the direction from where the voice had come. There, standing near the cliff overlooking the Zuberi River, stood a figure barely distinguishable from the gray rock it stood upon. Her dark fur was thin and matted, and stained even darker by the rain. The only bright part of her was her eyes; they shone like two burning embers, staring deeply and longingly into Chaka's.
Both sides turned to see who this new intruder was, and it was only then that some of them realized that not only had the rain suddenly stopped, but a faint glimmer of dawn had started to appear over the horizon. Chaka stared motionlessly at the figure for several seconds, then finally spoke her name in an awed, overjoyed, and even tearful voice:
Chaka leapt off of Kovu and bounded towards Timira. Shani ran up to her as well, and the siblings nuzzled their friend so fiercely that they almost pushed her over.
"Hi, guys," Timira smiled weakly.
"Timira, what happened to you?" Chaka said in a voice choked with tears. "We thought you were dead!"
"I was so worried about you!" Shani cried at the same time. "Where were you all this time? How did you escape the fire?"
"I...I don't know, Shani," Timira confessed. "All I remember is losing sight of you and trying to escape...and after that, there was nothing but darkness. The next thing I knew, I was lying in a dark cave, feeling so weak that I couldn't even sit up. Then I heard a lioness coming into the cave, and she told me that I had to stay where I was, or else I would be killed. Of course, for the first few days, I was so weak that leaving that cave was the furthest thing from my mind."
Shani and Chaka gaped in shock. A short distance away, Kovu cautiously got back to his feet, still on his guard, but wondering what to make of this new turn of events. Both of the prides still stood motionless, all of them just as puzzled and curious as Kovu was.
"How long were you in this cave?" Shani asked.
"I don't know," Timira said. "I couldn't see the sun or the moon, so there was no way I could keep track of time, but that lioness came back on a regular basis, bringing me things to eat. She only brought small things like mice and ground squirrels, but they were enough to keep me from starving.
"I slowly started to get my strength back, but the lioness still told me not to leave the cave if I valued my life. As I spent more time in that dark place, I began to see why she was giving me that warning: I could hear the voices of many other lionesses outside the cave, voices that I didn't recognize, and from the way their voices echoed, I could tell that the cave I was in was part of a huge network of caves which the lionesses obviously knew better than I did, if this was their lair.
"Despite the lioness's warnings, I began to grow restless. I knew you and the rest of the pride had to be worried about me, and I couldn't just stay in a small dark hole for the rest of my life. Then I finally saw my chance to escape: as I was eating the latest meal the lioness had brought to me, I realized that there were no voices coming from the outer caverns. I followed the lioness's scent out of the cave through a tunnel that branched off into several other caverns before coming to a huge central one, which had a hole in its roof that let in faint starlight.
"As dark as it was, that cave was a truly amazing place. The dim light that made its way inside lit up the walls... and the walls were made up entirely of gigantic crystals. Huge, gleaming crystals, some of them as big as elephants."
Shani blinked in surprise at a faint memory, and many of the Outsiders began exchanging looks of confusion and alarm.
"Anyway, I kept following the lioness's scent, and finally I found my way out of the caves," Timira continued. "And when I looked around, I suddenly knew where I was -- the Outlands."
Everyone on the Pridelander side gaped in shock, while the lionesses on the Outsiders' side became even more agitated.
"The Outlands?" Chaka repeated. "How did you end up there?"
"I wish I knew," Timira said, "But it's all a blur after I got trapped in the fire."
"What about that lioness who kept feeding you?" Shani pressed. "Did she tell you her name or anything?"
Timira hesitated for a moment.
"No," she said. "And it was too dark to make her out clearly..."
She slowly lifted her head and turned in the direction of the Outsiders. She began walking down the narrow gap between the two prides, with Shani and Chaka following her.
"But the one thing I could see was her eyes..." she said after a long pause. "And there was no way I could have forgotten what they looked like. They were bright blue...like the sky..."
She stopped in her tracks. As she stared at the pride of gaunt, disheveled, dark-coated lionesses, Chaka, Shani and Kovu stared as well. Slowly, Bianca and the other Outsiders began to redirect their gaze as well, turning their eyes towards the only blue-eyed lioness in the entire pride: Bianca and Scar's daughter, Shetani.
Bianca glared at her daughter, just as confused as she was furious. Shetani tried her best to appear unmoved and indifferent, but despite her years of discipline, the sea of eyes focused accusingly on her was too much for her to bear.
"Look," she said in the steadiest voice she could manage, "It was an accident. I thought she was -- "
"Are you saying that you actually saved that Pridelander's life?" Bianca snarled.
She then glared at Timira.
"You must be lying," she spat. "My Shetani would never do something as foolish as that!"
"I'm not lying," Timira said. "If that blue-eyed lioness wasn't Shetani, then who was it?"
"Enough of your deceit, Pridelander!" Bianca growled. "Don't you dare try to corrupt my daughter like your murderer of a king corrupted -- "
"She's not lying."
Bianca whirled around. Shetani was hanging her head, and those words had come from her. Bianca stared at her daughter in disbelief as she slowly lifted her head, gazing at Bianca solemnly out of her azure eyes, which glowed warmly in the light of the approaching morning.
"What did you say?" Bianca slowly hissed.
"She's not lying," Shetani said. "I did save her."
A flurry of confused whispers swept through the Outsiders, and Simba looked at Shetani in astonishment. This lioness had saved the life of Chaka's future mate?
Chaka himself gaped speechlessly at Shetani for a moment, then managed to stammer:
"But...but how? Why?"
"I found her lying unconscious at the edge of a stream as I was running away from the fire," Shetani said dully, without looking up. "I thought she was dead at first, but when I saw that she was still alive..."
She grimaced and shut her eyes, then looked up at her mother.
"I thought she was one of us at first!" she blurted out. "When I first saw her, the only thought in my mind was that I needed to save her, that I couldn't let her die..."
She turned away and stared pensively at the ground.
"But when I realized she was a Pridelander...that thought just wouldn't leave. I know you've told us how the Pridelanders are our enemy, but...but the only one you wanted dead was Simba. I didn't think anyone else in his pride was going to die by our paws...and when I saw that Pridelander lying there and realized that I had started the fire that almost killed her..."
She shuddered slightly and several of the Pridelanders gasped in shock at this new information.
"It didn't feel like killing a bat or a mouse," Shetani said quietly. "Knowing that that lioness was almost dead because of me made me feel so...so wrong. To think that she was going to die for no reason...I just couldn't leave her there. I pulled her onto my back and took her into one of the harder-to-find dens while the rest of the pride was out hunting. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do with her later on...all that mattered at that moment was not letting her die. I just couldn't see her as the enemy, Mother...I just saw her as another lioness that needed help."
Simba stared at Shetani, feeling just as confused as Bianca was angry. This lioness had intentionally started the fire that put his daughter in peril, then rescued Timira just because she was one of her kind? Was this really the daughter of Scar and Bianca...or was this yet another trick being played by the Outsiders?
Shetani then looked deeply into her mother's eyes, and her own eyes were suddenly filled with sadness.
"Mother...why?" she asked.
"Why?" Bianca growled, trembling with fury at her daughter's words. "What do you mean, 'why?'"
"Why do we have to kill Simba? You say he killed our father, but we never even knew him...and if what Kovu told us is true -- "
Bianca suddenly lunged angrily at her daughter, stopping a few feet in front of her. Shetani pulled back from her, but still held her ground.
"Don't tell me you've let those Pridelanders' lies get to you, too!" she snapped.
Shetani said nothing for a moment. Instead, she turned her gaze to the many badly injured lionesses that had dragged themselves away from the fight and were now lying sprawled on the hard, rocky ground several yards away, their fur soaked with rain, the Pridelanders looking just as dirty and bedraggled as the Outsiders.
"Look how many Pridelanders are wounded because of us," she said. "And look how many of us have gotten hurt because of this battle...is this really worth it, Mother? To come close to ending so many lives just for the sake of a father that Kovu and I never knew?"
Bianca bared her teeth, and for one frightening moment, it looked as if she was about to go for Shetani's throat. Instead, she bellowed:
"Anything is worth reclaiming Scar's lands for! You didn't think this war would be won without a few casualties, did you, Shetani?"
She whirled around to face Simba.
"Now!" she commanded. "Get him!"
"No, Mother," Shetani said slowly, turning to look at Shani, Chaka and Timira. "Shani was right."
She then turned towards Simba and Nala, then slowly walked towards them. Several of the Pridelanders growled warningly, but Shetani continued approaching them. Then, when she had reached the Pridelander side of the fight, she turned around to face her mother, as her brother had done before.
"Enough," she pleaded.
Bianca's face twisted into a sinister leer as her red eyes burned into Shetani's blue ones.
"If you don't fight with your pride," she growled, "Then you will die like the enemy!"
The Pridelanders weren't the only ones to recoil in shock at this merciless declaration. The Outsiders looked just as shocked by Bianca's words as Simba's pride was. They gazed concernedly at each other, and without speaking a word, they all seemed to come to one conclusion: Bianca's obsession had completely robbed her of her sanity. She didn't want to reclaim the Pride Lands just because they were their rightful home -- she wanted to cause Simba's pride a hundred times more pain and sorrow than Simba had ever caused her, and if that meant the death of a few dozen members of both the enemy's side and their side, then so be it.
Though many of them had had doubts about Bianca's plan over the course of their lives, what Kovu had told them that afternoon in the gorge had raised their skepticism significantly, what Shetani had revealed had made them wonder about Bianca's motives even more, but it was Bianca's threat to kill her own daughter had truly made them change their minds.
Slowly, the rest of the Outsiders began leaving Bianca's side and walking across the battlefield to Simba's side. Bianca stared at them in alarm, yelling at them to come back, furious at first, but as her pride continued to leave her, panic started to creep into her voice.
Simba looked at the Outsiders that were now standing with his pride facing Bianca -- Bianca, who was now completely alone. Her son, her daughter, and now her entire pride had abandoned her. Simba quietly reflected on his daughter's words and Shetani's as well. He also remembered what he had said to Kovu the previous day, about how good could still spring up in the wake of evil, if given the chance. Perhaps this had come to pass after all. If Kovu was truly out to kill Simba, why would he take a stand against his own pride? As for Shetani, regardless of how difficult life was for her in the Outlands, she had saved the life of a Pridelander, not in order to deceive Simba into accepting her into his pride, but because she felt pity for one of her own kind.
As for the rest of the Outsiders, many of them were looking at Simba not with hate or disgust, but with concerned, longing expressions. Simba felt a great pain fill his heart as he realized just how scrawny and haggard the Outsiders looked. They were gaunt, scruffy creatures that resembled lions but had been stripped of their dignity, their strength, their power...the very things that make lions lions.
Simba sighed. Though it was far too late to undo what had been done, hopefully it wasn't too late to repair the damage. He turned back to Bianca.
"Let it go, Bianca," he said gently. "It's time to put the past behind us."
Bianca was crouched low to the ground as if she had been backed into a corner.
"I'll never let it go!" she snarled furiously.
From the nearby gorge came a loud creaking sound. It came from of the tall dam formed out of logs. The rain had greatly raised the level of the river it was blocking, and the water was now pushing against the dam with the might of a thousand elephants.
Bianca crouched even lower, and her lips twisted into an insane grin.
"This is for you, Scar!" she snarled.
Before Simba could react, Bianca leapt towards him with all her claws exposed. However, just as quickly, a golden blur flashed through the air, intercepting Bianca in mid-jump. It was Shani. Her momentum caused her and Bianca to hit the ground several feet away from Simba, then rapidly roll towards the edge of the gorge. Simba tried to get to them in time, but it was too late. Bianca and Shani had gone flying over the edge, and the bottom of the gorge was many hundreds of feet below them.
Simba, Nala, Kovu, Shetani, Chaka and Timira stared in horror at the two lionesses falling into the gorge. Without thinking of anything but his daughter's life, Simba leapt over the cliff after them, grabbing onto a steep incline with his claws, then leaping onto a nearby rock ledge, and from there to another lower one.
As Shani fell, she scrabbled wildly at the rocks, trying desperately to grab hold of them with her claws. As she rolled down a bumpy slope and was about to go flying off the edge of a small precipice, she was just able to grab onto the edge of it. As she dug her claws into the rock, she heard a horrible rumbling noise. She cautiously turned her head and stared in horror at the source of it: the river bursting through the dam. It came rushing through the logs with a deafening roar punctuated by the sound of the logs getting smashed against the walls of the gorge. Shani trembled and tried to keep her grip on the precipice and ignore the sound of the wild rapids now churning below her.
High above her, Simba continued his descent of the gorge wall as quickly as he was able. He knew that what he was doing was incredibly dangerous, if not incredibly stupid, but his daughter's life was in danger. Simba's father had put his own life in danger in order to save Simba when he was in mortal peril, and now that he was a father himself, Simba felt it was his duty to do the same, no matter what the risks were.
Shani felt her grip starting to falter and she struggled to hold on to the precipice. Then, from below her, she heard a low voice:
"Well, well, Princess...so this is how it ends, is it?"
Shani turned her head as much as she dared. Out of the corner of her eye, she could just see Bianca clinging to a rock wall several feet beneath her. The river roared along the gorge, its waters a mesmerizing swirl of blue and white. Shani turned away, fearful of becoming dizzy and falling. Still, Bianca continued to speak to her:
"Both of us hanging here with death below us, and no way of escaping it."
Her voice had a distant, unnerving quality to it that made Shani's skin crawl. Her tone was so penetrating that Shani could hear her clearly even above the rumble of the river.
"And to think that my last chance to avenge my Scar's death would thwarted by you -- Simba's naive little princess. Say...was it you that filled my Kovu's head with all those stories about my Scar being a murderer? If so, that was a very clever trick you pulled, my dear...more conniving than anything I might have thought of..."
Shani was almost crying with fear at the aged lioness's insane ramblings. She gripped the rock wall with all her might, silently begging for Bianca to stop talking.
"Well, I hope you and Kovu will be very happy together," Bianca continued. "I never thought about choosing a mate for him...but the son of Scar is certainly deserving of a mate..."
She paused, and when she spoke again, it was in a much lower, more ominous voice:
"As for Scar himself...I will be with him again soon."
The fear that Shani had experienced at Bianca's other words was nothing compared to what she felt at this statement. Without thinking, she whirled around just in time to see Bianca let go of the rock face and fall into the river below her, laughing maniacally. Terrified, Shani shut her eyes and turned away, tears streaming down her face.
It might have been moments or minutes later before Shani heard her father's voice calling her name. She opened her eyes and looked up to see Simba perched precariously on the precipice she was hanging from.
"Dad..." Shani gasped, still shaking with fear.
"Don't worry, Shani," Simba panted. "I'll get you out of here."
He reached out to Shani with his paw, trying to get close enough for her to grab onto it with her claws. Unfortunately, Shani wasn't within easy reach, and Simba was starting to worry if he would be able to reach her at all. He crouched down and stretched his foreleg out as far as he could, then suddenly felt himself starting to lose his balance. In a flash, he withdrew his foreleg and backed against the cliff wall, his heart pounding.
The grave reality of the situation came trickling into Simba's mind: Shani was too far away for him to reach without him falling off the ledge, and even if he could reach her, the ledge was too narrow for him to get enough leverage to help lift her up. He stared helplessly at his daughter and the wild river beneath her, then suddenly, he heard a voice calling to him from above. He looked over his shoulder to see Kovu sitting on a ledge just a few feet above the one he was perched on, his green eyes wide with fear as he looked down at Simba.
"Simba!" Kovu cried. "Let me help you!"
Simba stared blankly at Kovu, whose face became even more desperate.
"Please!" he begged. "Trust me!"
All of a sudden, the memory of the horrible dream where Simba had heard those words came flooding back. The dream where he had seen his father dying in the gorge again, with Scar standing over them. Scar, who told Simba to trust him and prevented him from saving his father, then transformed into Kovu and threw Simba to his death as well.
And now here Simba was in a different gorge, but it wasn't his father in need of his help, but his daughter, and it wasn't a herd of wildebeests stampeding hundreds of feet below them, but a massive torrent of water...and just like in the dream, there was Kovu standing above them, with the same scar over his eye as he had had in the dream...
Trust the lion who has been trained nearly his entire life to kill you? Trust the lion whose mother tried to murder you and whose father killed your father?
Shani screamed out the name, causing Simba to look back at her. Her forelegs were trembling as she tried to keep a grip on the rock, and it was clear that she wouldn't be able to hang on for much longer. Simba glanced back at Kovu, then realized that he had no choice.
"All right," he said to Kovu. "I trust you."
In a flash, Kovu crouched down and grabbed hold of Simba by what would be the scruff of his neck if he lacked a mane.
"Okay," Kovu said in a muffled voice, trying to speak as clearly as he could around the mane in his mouth. "Now help her up! Hurry!"
Simba cautiously leaned over the edge of the precipice. Kovu dug his claws into his ledge, his jaws clamped around Simba's mane with all his strength. Simba reached out to Shani, and with Kovu preventing him from falling, was just able to get within reach of her paws.
"Shani, grab my paw and climb up!" he yelled. "Don't worry about hurting me, just climb!"
Shani nodded nervously, hesitated a moment, then dug the claws of her right paw into Simba's foreleg. Simba cringed in pain, but said nothing. Shani then grabbed him further up the leg with her left paw, then quickly grabbed onto his shoulder with her right. It wasn't long before Shani had clambered up over her father's body and leapt onto the ledge that Kovu was crouched on. Simba heaved a sigh of relief as Kovu released his grip on his mane. The king then turned to see Kovu and his daughter nuzzling each other affectionately.
Several days before, Simba might have become alarmed, disgusted or even downright outraged at this sight, but now, all he could feel was happiness. Pumbaa had been right about Shani being smart. She had known that Kovu wasn't bad and that his feelings for her were true. He had just risked his life to save her a second time -- and this time his only motive was his love for her. As for the Outsiders, Shani had been right about them as well. All they really wanted was to live in a land where they didn't have to eat mice and ground squirrels to survive, a land full of green grass and tall trees...a land that they should never have been cast out of in the first place.
Simba gazed contemplatively at his daughter and the young lion she had fallen in love with as they continued to tenderly rub their heads together. Then they slowly parted and looked down at Simba, who smiled warmly at them. The young couple smiled as well, then turned and began their climb back to the top of the gorge. Simba followed them at a discreet distance.
It took some time for the Outsiders to adapt not only to living in a new land, but living under a new leader as well. Some of the younger ones were still quite shaken over the loss of Bianca, but the older ones who had lived during Scar's reign had seen the metamorphosis from a lioness that idolized Scar to one that was insanely obsessed with him, and realized that this obsession must have been what led to her downfall.
Some of the older Outsiders sadly related how though Bianca was madly in love with Scar, Scar had seen her as no more as the bearer of his heirs, and had no real feelings for her at all.
"It was so terrible," said one Outsider with dark markings under one of her eyes, "How she did everything to try to please him, and never saw how he simply wasn't interested in her. Even though her love for him was true, the love he had for her was all in her mind...and when he died, it was as if part of Bianca died as well."
As Simba listened to this, Chaka's unusual behavior over the past few weeks suddenly began to make sense to him. When Timira had disappeared and Chaka thought she was dead, he had become a completely different lion. It was as if part of him had disappeared as well, leaving a bitter, cold shell in its place.
However, now that Timira was back, Chaka's shy, gentle personality had returned, and he was at her side nearly every minute of the day. They would often spend time together away from the rest of the pride, talking to each other in low voices and laughing a lot. Simba's heart was filled with joy to see that Chaka had truly fallen in love with Timira, just as Timira had become enamored with him. To them, it didn't matter at all that they were betrothed. All that mattered to them now was that they were together again and were going to stay together for as long as they lived.
Ironically, though it had only taken a few weeks without Timira to make Chaka realize that he really loved her, it had only taken a few weeks with Shani to make Kovu realize that he loved her. When Bianca and Shani had fallen into the gorge, it was only Shani that had driven Kovu to leap in after them. Oddly, Simba learned about this not from Kovu, but from Chaka.
"He was standing on the cliff, looking down at you and Shani," Chaka explained. "And I could tell he was preparing to jump...but just before he did, he turned and looked at me, like he was expecting me to leap on him again.
"Then he asked -- no, begged me to allow him to help you, and despite all I knew about him and his mother's plan for him..."
Chaka trailed off and glanced away briefly before resuming his story.
"When I looked in his eyes...I saw what I felt for Timira. That was when I knew that he really did love Shani, and was willing to risk his life to save her. Still, even after I gave him permission to follow you, for a moment I was afraid that I had done the wrong thing, that he might have somehow been tricking me and I should have stopped him and tried to rescue Shani myself..."
He stared worriedly into his father's eyes.
"I didn't do the wrong thing, did I, Father?"
Simba pondered this question for a moment, then shook his head with a warm smile.
"Under the circumstances, I doubt I could have made a better decision," he said. "In fact, since the day Kovu asked to join the pride, except for one or two mistakes, you always did the right thing. You kept an eye on him all the time, making sure that he had no chance to harm me. If it weren't for you, Kovu might have carried out his mother's plans before he learned the truth about his father."
Chaka glanced pensively at the ground, then looked at his father and smiled, though there was still a hint of nervousness in his eyes.
"Don't worry, Chaka," Simba said, nuzzling his head gently. "I know you'll be a wonderful king one day."
As cruel a parent as she had been, Bianca was still Kovu and Shetani's mother, and the loss of her had affected them the most. Nearly everyone in the pride tried to comfort them, especially Nala. The siblings had lived lives of hardship without any loving parents, and Nala felt great pity for them because of this.
However, Kovu and Shetani would often ask to spend time alone. The only others that they would let near them were Shani, would accompany Kovu, and Timira, who would accompany Shetani whenever Chaka was willing to temporarily leave her side. Kovu would tell Shani everything his mother had put him through as he had grown up, and Shani would solemnly listen to every word. Shetani, meanwhile, would tell Timira what it was like being trained to be a fighter, and how she had kept Timira's presence in the Outsiders' lair a secret, an endeavor that had even involved risking nighttime excursions into the Pride Lands so she could catch something substantial for both herself and Timira to eat. However, one of the first private conversations between the two lionesses began with a question not from Timira, but Shetani.
"Why did you lie to them?" she asked.
"About what?" Timira responded.
"About me," Shetani said. "When you showed up when Chaka attacked my brother, Shani asked you if I had told you your name while you were in our lair, and you said I hadn't...but I did tell you my name, Timira. After you told me yours, you wouldn't stop bothering me until I told you mine. Did you forget that that happened or something?"
"No," Timira said quietly.
"Then why did you tell everyone you didn't know my name?"
"Because I didn't want anything to happen to you," she said softly. "Shetani, you saved my life. Not only that but you kept me alive, even though you knew I was on your enemy's side. I know I'd only known you a short time and hardly knew anything about you except your name and the color of your eyes...but after just a few days in that dark cave, I really started to see you as a friend..."
Timira looked deeply into Shetani's eyes.
"...And I would never tell on one of my friends."
With no more barriers between their prides, there were no more secrets or deceptions between the Pridelanders and the former Outsiders. Kovu and Shetani held nothing back from Shani and Timira, and the two lionesses kept nothing from them either. As they talked, the bond between Kovu and Shani became even stronger, and Shetani began to see Timira as a friend as well.
As well as the two prides seemed to be getting along, however, there was another problem that was resting on Simba's mind. It stewed within him for several days, until one day he decided that he couldn't keep it to himself any longer. He asked Nala, Kovu, Shani, Chaka, Timira and Shetani to come into the central cave with him, where he posed the problem to all of them:
"It concerns who is going to be the next king," he said. "Now, Chaka, I know that I've been training you to be the next king, but Kovu is also of royal blood, and a little older than you as well. I've been trying to decide which of you would be the most worthy heir, but I felt that I had to ask you who you thought would be the best choice as well."
There were many more things that Simba could have added to this statement, but since most of them were already in the minds of everyone present, he didn't mention them. One such thing was the fact that although he might have changed his ways, Kovu had been raised to be a merciless killer, and considering what a poor king Scar was, Simba doubted that Bianca had passed any of Scar's knowledge regarding ruling a kingdom on to her son. And what was to be Kovu's fate if Chaka became the next king? Would he have to leave the Pridelands along with Shani, or would he be allowed to stay? The latter option made Simba feel uneasy as memories of his father and Scar came drifting into his mind.
The lions assembled in front of Simba looked concernedly at each other for a few moments, with Kovu and Chaka looking especially quizzical. Finally, Chaka spoke up:
"What if Kovu and I ruled together?" he asked.
Simba blinked and stared at his son.
"Together?" he repeated after a moment.
"Yes," Chaka said. "Father, you've taught me a lot about negotiating disputes, making wise decisions and maintaining order, but when it comes to things like fighting and brute force..."
He shot Kovu a brief look.
"...I'm really not that good at those things -- at least, not yet. But if Kovu and I ruled together, I could teach him what I knew about diplomacy and keeping the kingdom in order..."
"And I could teach you what I knew about fighting?" Kovu interjected.
"Right," Chaka said. "So what do you think, Father? Do you think it could work?"
Simba looked at his son, then at Kovu. He was astonished, not only by Chaka's suggestion that he and his former rival share the duty of kingship, but by how much sense that suggestion made. Two kings could defend the Pride Lands much better than one, and with the two lions possessing the same amount of power, there would be no bitter, jealous relative intent on murdering the king so that he himself could claim the throne. There would certainly be disputes between the two rulers, but with Timira and Shani by their sides, Simba was sure they would be able to resolve them easily.
"Well," Simba smiled. "That is an unusual idea, Chaka, but I think that it just might work. What do the rest of you think, though?"
"It seems like a good idea to me," he confessed. "The thing is, I'm not sure if I ever actually wanted to be king..."
He glanced down and in a quieter voice, added:
"I just wanted my mother to be happy."
A thick silence filled the cave. The air seemed to grow chilly as Simba suddenly remembered what Bianca had told him on the day he had first met Kovu:
"One day, Simba, we will return to these lands. They are our rightful home...and when that day comes, Kovu will take his place as the rightful king."
In a way, Bianca had been partially right. The Outsiders had returned to the Pride Lands, and now Kovu had been given the opportunity to become the future king. Unfortunately, she hadn't lived to see this come to pass.
"Well, I think you've got great potential," Timira said. "That whole rescuing Simba and Shani thing was really something. I'm sure the Pride Lands could use a king with that kind of bravery."
Chaka placed one of his paws on Kovu's right forepaw.
"You don't have to be king if you don't want to," he said quietly. "I just definitely think you could teach me a thing or two about fighting."
Shani, who was sitting on the other side of Kovu, placed one of her paws on Kovu's left forepaw.
"I think you would make a great king," she said. "You're brave and strong, but you're smart, too. I can tell you everything that Father's taught me, and I'm sure he and Chaka could also help."
Kovu glanced nervously at Shani, then at Chaka. Finally, after a few moments of contemplation, he turned back to Simba.
"All right," Kovu said as confidently as he was able. "I'll do it. I don't know if I'll be that good at it, but...I'll do the best I can."
Chaka grinned. Timira coyly intertwined her tail with his and Shani nuzzled Kovu lovingly. Nala, who was sitting beside Simba, nuzzled him. Shetani, who had been completely silent during the entire discussion, suddenly spoke up:
"Well, this is all great, but what about me? I mean, once Kovu is the king, what does that make me?"
Shani turned to face Shetani. For a moment, she said nothing, then:
"You and I will be the second most important lionesses in the pride. As the king's sister, you will advise him when he is in need of advice, protect him when he is defenseless, and even act as king for him if he is preoccupied elsewhere. Do this, and in a way, you'll be just as powerful as him, Shetani."
Simba was amazed by these words that his daughter had just spoken, then suddenly he realized that aside from a few minor differences, they were the same words he had said to Shani when she was just a cub. It was then that he knew that Chaka and Kovu would be worthy heirs to the throne. With Timira's love to support Chaka and Shani's wisdom to guide Kovu, the Pride Lands would surely prosper.
The day was just dawning, but Pride Rock was already a flurry of activity. It was surrounded by animals of every species, all staring up at the high peak with wonder and curiosity. The Pridelanders and the former Outsiders lay in a wide circle near Pride Rock's main cave. Simba and Nala sat within the circle facing Kovu, Shani, Chaka and Timira, who sat nearest to the cave. Timon and Pumbaa were sitting at Simba's side, their eyes also fixed on the two lions and the two lionesses.
The old shaman Rafiki was standing in front of them, clutching his gourd-adorned staff with one hand. He nodded solemnly at the two young couples, then, with a speed that belied his great age, plucked one of the gourds from his staff. He then broke it in half, dipped one of his thumbs in the viscous red interior of the fruit, then painted a half-circle on Timira's chest, just over her heart. Then he dipped his thumb into the gourd again and painted a half-circle on Chaka's chest, which was covered by his growing mane. This shape was a mirror image of the one on Timira's chest, and the two arcs would form a complete circle if they were moved closer to each other. Rafiki smiled, then proceeded to paint two more half-circles on Kovu and Shani (who couldn't help giggling slightly when Rafiki painted the symbol on her).
Through this ritual, the two couples had truly become mates in the eyes of the pride. For as long as they lived, Kovu and Shani would be united as one, as would Chaka and Timira. Simba gazed at his son and daughter and felt tears fill his eyes. To think that this is how it would have turned out -- both of his children happily married, the Outsiders no longer a threat to their rule, and a hopeful future for his kingdom. Simba didn't know when the sun would set on his time as king, but he knew that he would be quite ready to join his mother and father when it finally did.
"They look so happy," Pumbaa remarked, his voice choked with emotion. "Oh, to be joined in the bonds of macaroni..."
"Matrimony, Pumbaa," Timon retorted, but it was clear that he was trying not to cry. "But doggone it, I hope things work out well for 'em."
Suddenly the meerkat frowned and looked around the circle of lionesses, then turned to Simba.
"Psst! Hey, Simba," he said. "Where the heck is that majordomo of yours?"
"Zazu?" Simba asked. He glanced left and right, but like Timon, didn't see the brightly colored bird anywhere.
"That's funny," he muttered. "It's not like Zazu to miss a ceremony as important as this. Where could he be?"
"Maybe he's looking for Binti," Pumbaa suggested.
"Oh, come on," Timon said. "You really think a pompous old bird like him would ditch us on a day like today just so he could go looking for his..."
Timon abruptly fell silent and a puzzled look crept over his face. Simba suddenly noticed a low rumbling sound filling the air, and he looked around, trying to find the source of the noise. Nala spotted it before he did: a large dust cloud was speeding across the savannah, heading towards the base of Pride Rock. Many of the animals in the dust cloud's path were hurriedly moving out of its way, and many of the Outsiders in the circle of lionesses were starting to grow anxious as well.
Within a matter of moments, the dust cloud had reached the base of Pride Rock and was now rumbling up the slope leading to the spot where the pride was assembled at a slightly slower rate. Though it was no longer raising any dust, it wasn't until the strange thing had come to a complete stop near the edge of the circle that the pride realized what it was.
Winston the rhinoceros stood calmly before the lions and lionesses, panting heavily. On his head was a slightly dazed-looking Zazu, and at his side, with a coy smirk on her face and slim branch clutched in her right foot, was Binti.
"Binti!" Shani exclaimed, excitedly bounding towards Winston in complete disregard for the rules of the marriage ceremony. Zazu shook his head rapidly, then turned to Simba.
"Sire," he said, "Please accept my sincerest apologies for our lateness as well as our..."
He shot Binti a look out of the corner of his eye.
"...less than proper arrival."
"Hey, you said that we needed to hurry," Binti shrugged. "And hurrying is what Winston does best, isn't it, boy?"
"Apologies accepted," Simba said. "But where were you, Zazu?"
"And where have you been all this time?" Shani asked Binti.
Binti smiled sheepishly and glanced over her shoulder.
"Well, I suppose now would be the best time to answer that," she said quietly.
She then turned towards the massive hump formed by Winston's shoulders.
"Okay, you can come out now," she called. "Don't worry, it's safe. I promise."
For a moment, there was nothing. Then, a scraggly, feathered head peered cautiously over Winston's hump, stared at the crowd for a moment, then disappeared. After another pause, the head appeared again -- and this time, so did the entire animal. It ambled up onto the top of Winston's hump and stared at the animals in front of it with wide, curious eyes.
It was a young hornbill. It was more than half the size of Binti, but many of its feathers were still coming in, making it look as if it had fledged only a few days before. Before Shani or any of the other watchers could react to this sight, two more hornbill chicks appeared on either side of it, looking every bit as scruffy as the first.
Shani laughed with delight, and Simba gaped at Zazu in astonishment.
"Yep," Binti said, "Keeping eggs warm is a full-time job, and so is keeping these three fed. I'm sorry for not telling anyone about it beforehand, but Zazu and I...we just thought it would be better if we waited until later."
"Wow," Shani gasped, staring at the three chicks in adoration. "What did you name them?"
"Uh...actually, we haven't named them yet," Binti admitted. "But two are girls and one's a boy, so what if we call them...Shani, Timira and Chaka?"
Shani snickered, Timira rolled her eyes, and Chaka smiled.
"Hey, what about naming them after us?" asked Shetani from her position a couple places away from her brother.
"But there are only two of you," Binti said. "But I guess I could name them Kovu, Shetani and Bi -- "
She halted in mid-sentence, realizing almost too late how insensitive it would be to mention the name of Kovu and Shetani's mother in such an irreverent manner. Surprisingly, though, neither Kovu nor Shetani looked offended. In fact, they both looked remarkably calm. After a pause, Kovu spoke in a soft, low voice.
"You can name the third one Bianca if you want," he said. "It is a beautiful name, after all...and those are beautiful babies."
Many of the former Outsiders stared at Kovu in awe. Though many of them didn't understand why he would suggest such a thing at first, they slowly began to realize the significance of his words: he didn't want the name to his mother to be associated with the cruel, revenge-obsessed creature that had tried to kill Simba. That Bianca was gone now. Perhaps by giving someone in the next generation that name, there was hope that individual would make that name into one that inspired love rather than loathing.
After all, Kovu had been given a name that meant "scar", yet now he had grown as different from his father as night was from day -- even the cut over Kovu's eye had almost completely healed by this time. The shadows that both Bianca and Scar had cast over the young lion had finally faded away.
Binti was silent for a moment, looking lost in thought. Then she quickly regained her light-hearted demeanor.
"Well, we can come up with names later," she said quickly. "Right now you'd better get back to performing this ceremony."
"Oh, right," Shani said, running back to her original position beside Kovu. Rafiki, glad that the interruption was finally over, raised his staff and waved it above the heads of Chaka and Timira, the final step that sealed the bond between them. He then did the same with Shani and Kovu, then stepped back and bowed before the two couples.
Though this part of the ceremony was now over, there was another part that had to be carried out. The four young lions rose to their feet and began walking through the circle of lionesses, heading towards the peak of Pride Rock. The assembled lionesses bowed to them as they passed.
When the four lions reached the spot where Simba and Nala were sitting, there was only enough space between the two seated lions to allow two of them to pass through at a time. Chaka and Timira walked through first, and Simba and Nala smiled warmly at them as they passed. Then Shani and Kovu walked through. Kovu glanced at Simba as he walked past, and though his dark face was nervous, it was hopeful as well.
The two couples finally reached the peak of Pride Rock. They stood abreast, Chaka and Kovu in the middle with Shani and Timira on the outside. For a moment, they gazed down in awe at the multitudes of animals standing far below them and the rapidly brightening sky above them. Then, after a few confirming glances at each other, they knew they were ready. As if the four of them were one, they breathed in deeply, then let loose a deafening roar that could be heard for miles around.
This roar was meant to symbolize the newly wedded prince and princess staking their claim as the future king and queen of their kingdom. Before her death, Sarabi had described how she and Mufasa had performed this ritual together, and it filled Simba with pride to see his children and their mates doing it as well. Before the echoes of their roar had died away, the four lions roared again, and this time they were joined by Simba, Nala, and all the other lions in the pride. The animals gathered below Pride Rock leapt, pranced and called out excitedly, acknowledging their present and future rulers.
Amidst all the noise and confusion, the world seemed to suddenly grow quiet for Simba. He felt truly at peace for the first time in many years. He looked at Chaka, his shy, wise son, Shani; his playful, always optimistic daughter who had helped unite the prides; Timira, the quick-tongued huntress who had brought Chaka back to his senses in the nick of time; and Kovu, the son of Scar who had saved not only Simba's life, but Shani's as well.
Simba slowly turned to look at Kovu's sister Shetani, who was staring at her brother, her face filled with joy and admiration. Simba then glanced at faithful companions Timon and Pumbaa; Zazu, Binti and their three chicks; and the eccentric mandrill Rafiki. They all looked just as happy as Simba felt. Finally, Simba turned to his mate, Nala. She looked at him out of her jade green eyes, smiled her sweet, delicate smile and licked him gently on the cheek. Simba nuzzled her fondly, then looked up at the morning sky. It was filled with large, fleecy clouds illuminated by the sun, some of them so filled up with light that they couldn't help spilling sunbeams over the vast, green plains beneath them. The sight was so beautiful that Simba was no longer able to hold back his tears. With both joy and sadness in his heart, he silently spoke to the heavens:
Father...Mother...I did it.
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