Zira’s Past Part II:
Journey to the Pridelands
Zira sighed, stretched, and let out a long, slow yawn. If she didn’t get to sleep soon, she would be in worse than usual condition for her normal sunrise hunt. By the stars, she was starving. Her belly growled at the thought of one of Shikenta’s freshly wild boars... but even if she was to be so generous, Zira, like the rest of her people, was far to proud to accept handouts, even from friends. Well, she would have to content herself with some piddling little meekrats for the children’s breakfast. At least they didn’t have tusks...
Zira had been called vicious, hateful, even cruel, but no one could deny that there was nothing she put before her cubs, even Nuka, unless it was her burning need for revenge. All her life she had thrown her self into her feelings with all the strength of her passionate heart, equality intense in its likes and dislikes, its fascinations and obsessions. Zira closed her eyes against the memories that continued to rise up in front of her like Shikenta’s ghosts, but they flooded in, soothing her burning anger and whispering her to sleep. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, if I think about it long enough, I will remember how happy I was with him then......
Zira followed Shikenta’s instructions to the letter. Hunger gnawed impatiently at her stomach, and she prayed the lions in this new land would be kind enough to offer her something to eat before debating her admittance into their pride. A pool of murky water lay nearby, and Zira bent to lap up the water thirstily; in the increasing heat of the open plains, she couldn’t afford to be picky. But then, she very rarely could, could she? Zira sighed and squinted upwards. The sun was high in the sky.... Shikenta said if she kept up a decent pace she should make it there by nightfall at least. I hope she’s right, Zira thought, forcing her exhausted body into a brisk even trot.
Zira’s thoughts were hopeful as she neared what the panther had said the lions of this land referred to as “Pride Rock.” She had stated it rather mockingly, and Zira could hardly blame her; after all, there was little love lost between the lion and the leopard. The spotted, stealthy cats may not be as annoying as hyenas, but they were far more intelligent, and far more dangerous. Few ever wondered near a lion pride, unless desperate, but, if roused to a great enough anger, they could meet their death at the teeth of an angry male lion.
Well, that’s not my fault, Zira thought, shaking off these rather gloomy thoughts. Shikenta’s right; they so rarely bother us: live and let live.
Zira’s contemplative thoughts were cut short by a crackle in the nearby brush. She tensed, then quickly relaxed her muscles and kept walking. One thing she had learned watching leopards was to never reveal too much of what you know, and she wasn’t about to alert whoever was following her to the fact that she had become of aware of their presence. She heard soft, almost imperceptible padded paws thudding on the ground and knew her stalker was almost certainly leonine. She took deep breaths and told herself to stay calm. At the last possible second she would whirl around and catch whoever it was by surprise. She heard the paws treading closer closer...
She spun around and swiped instinctively with her claws out, felt them warm lightly with blood, and, furious, desperate, she leapt in for the kill.
She received a backpawed blow to her head for her troubles and stumbled, trying to blink the blurring out of her eyes while looking tough at the same time. Her growl came out more like a cry for help, and she fell with a slight oooh pain to the ground.
When she opened her eyes seconds later it was with some trepidation that she looked up to see her attacker. Her vision cleared and a scowling male lion came into focus. Oh, I am not talking my way out of this one, she thought, and there go all those nice fat big gazelles and warm caverns.
Some strong instinct told her he was in control of these pridelanders, the “King” a term only the most old-fashioned prides used nowadays. His coat was darkish brown, and he looked slightly less powerful than the average male -- could she take him on?? Her eyes traveled from his fairly muscular front legs up to startling black main, to his daggering, penetrating, green-yellow eyes, one of which had a straight reddish scar over it, as if someone had carefully and deliberately sliced a claw over his eye. The wound looked old, she noticed, and it only served to further intimidate her. She would try to defer to him first, she decided.
All this ran through Zira’s mind as she stared into the angry eyes for a long minute. She did not wish to seem even more belligerent, but something would not let her look away. Finally, he broke the tense silence and spoke in a low, chilling voice.
“Why did you attack me?”
“You.. you were following me, “Zira said simply, truthfully, “and I guess I got scared.”
“Hmph. Don’t you like to know what you’re striking at before you strike it. Bit risky lashing out blind like that you know.”
His tone dripped with mocking. Despite herself, Zira was getting roused to anger. “Better to strike first and take your chances,” she said more sharply than she meant to, “than to wait and lose your life.”
“You are....... impudent,” the lion said in an unreadable tone. He smiled sinisterly. “I rather like that. Get up, why don’t you.” It was not a question. Zira got up.
The male lion’s eyes traveled from the stripe of her forehead to her knotted muscles to her protruding rib bones. “And just what are you doing here, hmm??”
“A le.... someone... told me there was a pride hear with plentiful hunting and fresh water. I .... humbly.... ask to join your pride.”
His eyes widened with surprise, then narrowed suspiciously. She met his icy stare without a blink, and as if by an unspoken agreement, they both lowered their eyes at the same time.
“Perhaps...” said the male meditatively, “perhaps you may joined my pride. But,” he said, moving closer to her, “you’d better swallow your first.”
“Ha. Ha.” Zira said without humor. Fine, she’d play along with this little game. Whatever it took.
“Not at all,” he said, the smile suddenly dropping from his face, “If you are a part of my pride I won’t have you insulting me or feeling you are somehow superior or more worthy .... I get enough of that,” he growled warningly.
“Just tell me what I have to do to prove myself, and I’ll do it!” Zira said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. After all, she wasn’t about to jump through the rings if he was just having fun with her. In this life, who knew?
He studied her for several seconds. Then he said, “There is a moderately fresh kill over there by that tree. Go. Eat. I want to see you hunt, but it will be no good if you did it on an empty stom...”
He didn’t get the change to finish. Zira rushed past him and tore into the kill. Oh yes, finally, meat, mmmm, mm yum yum....
The male strolled slowly over to her with a look of disgust on his face. “Couldn’t you show some manners?”
Rather indignant, Zira paused to lick her face and paws clean, and then looked up at him.
“I haven’t eaten for... since... well I can’t even remember when! Manners are for the well-fed.” Without waiting for a response, she dove back into to the rich belly meat, almost purring with pleasuring as she ate voraciously.
“My, my aren’t we feisty,” the male mocked, but he didn’t sound really displeased. Too hungry to pay him heed, Zira ate until her belly was stretched tight as a drum, flopped unceremoniously on her side, washed, looked up, and said simply, “Thank you.”
“Well, I’m glad to see you have some social grace,” he jeered, and Zira, swallowing a growl, decided to try taking it lightly. She rolled her eyes and smiled slightly, shaking her head as if to say “You’re impossible.”
He seemed to react well to this. When he allowed the small grin to spread just wide enough on his face, she noticed, he didn’t seem nearly as sinister. It quickly faded, though.
“Now,” he said brusquely, “If you could-” “Oh,” she said, “Forgive me... (??) highness... but.... I am so full, I would move like a sand-dragger if I were to hunt now. Please, extend your generosity once more, and just give me--”
“Fine, fine,” he grumbled irritably, “and enough with the blatant ego-stroking.. I’ve had my fill of that too.”
“Uh...okay,” said Zira, who wouldn’t have minded a little ego-stroking after what she was sure would be a fabulous hunt. Oh well......
She felt her lids growing heavy in the midday sun, but fought sleep. Who knew if he really meant what he said? She so rarely saw her own kind.. for all she knew, this was how the males got their kicks. In the end, however, the sun was just to warm, the grass too soft, her belly too loaded down with a good meal, and Zira succumbed to sweet dreams of a better life.
Someone was nudging her gently with a soft, cool paw. She smiled in her sleep, rolled over purring, and awoke with a start to see his impassive face again. “Sorry,” she murmured, scrambling to her feet, and feeling her face grow warm. She was being tested for admittance into a good pride, and here she was going on like a weak little cub. For once, she noticed, his eyes were not on her as she shook herself and licked a few untidy pieces of fur down smooth.
“I’m ready whenever you are... sire,” she said with all the confidence she could muster. He said nothing but walked in the direction of a nearby grazing heard. Silently, she followed.
They reached the brush behind the clearing and she crouched by his side, automatically scanning the herd for a potential kill. He glanced at her, at the impalas, and back again.
“That one,” he indicated a half-grown, powerful looking young male, that seemed bold and brash and cocky. Zira’s eyes widened. Could she make that kill? She would have too.
“Whenever you’re ready,” her murmured almost imperceptibly, and ceased all noise and movement except breathing. Stealthily, she crept closer closer, thankful her pelt blending in with the colors of the setting sun. He frolicked carelessly away from the herd, unaware of the danger lurking so close by. Yes.. yes... just a little bit closer... hold it, hold it... don’t move, don’t breath....
Zira leapt out of the brush and dashed after the startled animal, getting her claws across its side as she reached for the throat. Come on, come on, come on....
She sunk her teeth into his shoulder, and for one awful minute felt her back half streak across the plain as he continued his terrified run. Fortunately, pain soon brought him to a keeling stop on the ground. Placing her paw on his shoulder she quickly moved her gripping jaw from the shoulder to the throat, biting savagely as he convulsed, helpless in her grasp. She felt warm blood in her mouth as his eyes, glazed with pain-numbing shock, and deadened to a dull hollowness. She loosened her death grip upon his throat, and gently let blood and skin and fur fall from her powerful jaws. Breathing heavy, she flopped down possessively over her kill, turned her head to where the “king” lay hidden, and smiled triumphantly. She’d made short work of a powerful prey without anyone’s help, and she knew she’d done an excellent job.
He emerged, and could not help looking impressed. “My, my,” he said, “well I suppose that clinches it. You’re in.”
Zira gave a little hop and let of a laugh of pure joy. She noticed he didn’t seem too displeased at her display. In fact, his small, begrudging smile had returned again. It made him look indescribably appealing. Zira flushed too warm, and busied herself with dragging the kill over to him. “Well?”
“Now you get to carry it home.” he said, indicating “Pride Rock,” some ways in the distance.
“Oh, goody,” Zira said sarcastically. Her paws were still aching from her long journey and her short sprint. He looked up at her sharply. “Umm, just kidding!” she muttered, making haste to retrieve her fresh kill.
“Follow me.” he said, trotting slowly by her side. She struggled with her heavy load, but kept up her strength by reminding herself how good it would taste later. The walked along in silence for some minutes, until the male finally turned to her and said,
“I’m suppose I shall have to call you something now. What is your name... if you have been give one?”
“Zira.” She said, secretly relieved that they had stopped. “And are you just going to be “majesty” and “sire” and “highness,” or do I get to know your name too?” That smile again. Damn. Damn.
“Scar,” it fell.
“Oh..... wow, you must’ve had some mean parents,” Zira blurted without thinking.
Double damn. She kept her eyes on the ground, but she still felt his stare.
“And I suppose you didn’t have any parent at all.” Zira bristled at his innuendo. “Of course I do,” she snarled “they just... didn’t care that’s all. I got tired of... of being uninvited. So I ran away.”
Scar looked at her almost sympathetically. Rarely did another creature move him to anything resembling compassion, or even empathy. An intriguing lioness, indeed, and an excellent hunter to boot. This day wasn’t turning out so bad after all.
He noticed her struggling under the weight of the kill, and moved silently to help her. The pelts touched, and each felt the warmth of the other’s body against the cool of the coming night. They walked on in mutual contentment until they both saw the figure of another lioness emerge from Pride Rock.
“Scar,” said Sarabi, to angry to notice his companion, “where in he-”
Scar dropped the carcass unceremoniously at her feet. “Getting your dinner.” He replied curtly, “now go drag it in the cave before the hyenas get a whiff of it.”
Zira took an immediate dislike to this arrogant lioness, who seemed to have finally noticed her.
“Scar, who is this?”
“Your meal ticket. Sarabi, I’ll explain tomorrow!” he snarled, waving a paw at her dismissively. “Now go and let me rest.”
Sarabi opened her mouth as if to reply, thought better of it, and with a final glance at the strange lioness, took her leave of her brother-in-law.
“Forgive me if this question is overly bold, but.... is this Sarabi... your mate?”
“No.” Scar spat out, and Zira felt a totally irrational relief. She is.. was.. my... brother’s wife. Technically, she’s still queen. Even if I choose a mate of my own, she could not displace Sarabi without the consent of Sarabi herself.” He didn’t sound to happy about the situation, she noted. “The title would be my mate’s, but the power would be hers.”
“Oh... well.. thank you for explaining.” Zira didn’t know what else to say. Well, it was just that she didn’t like it when lions put on airs, yes, that’s she felt --
“Well,” said Scar, breaking into to her thought, “come. Let’s see I can fall asleep before Sarabi comes grumbling buy again.”
“Oh you like that idea do you?” he said almost playfully, then quickly averted his eyes. “We will have a great deal to discuss in the morning, so get plenty of sleep.” He move aside so she could enter first. They were curious mummers from the other lionesses.
“In the morning! I said in the morning I’ll explain, alright? Now leave me in peace! I’m exhausted.” He flopped down, heaved an annoyed sigh and slowly let his lids close. Zira tried to give everyone a friendly smile, but she was afraid it turned more like a grimace. Oh well. She was in, that’s what mattered.
“You made a good kill,” Safrina offered from the back of the cave. “We enjoyed it very much. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” said Zira, to tired to look around for the owner of the friendly voice. In the morning, she’d find out who it was. In the morning .... she yawned and instinctively snuggled up to the nearest warm body. In the morning her new life would begin.