Zira’s Past Part Three: The Image of the Lie Preface There was more, much more... there were wonderful things she had hoped for in her future . . . and then, there was the terrible, terrible secret she discovered, the dark image only she could understand, and dared to imagine as real - oh, how badly she wished she could have put aside her suspicions. Why did she have to be right? Even then, she knew him too well. Body The sun rose across Zira’s new home, and crept into the cave where she lay sleeping. She tried to keep her eyes shut (she hadn’t slept this well in a long time) but the light eventually forced her to open her eyes. She felt the warmth of another’s body beside her, and sprung up. Unsure to being among her own kind after so long, she felt threatened rather than reassured by the close quarters lions normally. She looked down, and felt herself stiffen. Oh no.. she hadn’t... Well, at least he was still sleeping. She seemed to have developed a knack for embarrassing herself ever since she arrived in this place. Looking around to see if anyone has noticed, she was gratified to see that none of the others had awoken. Yawning, she stretched out her front paws, yawned, and then gave her hind legs a good stretch. She did a quick grooming and yawned again, shaking the last of sleep out her eyes. “Hmph...” she heard a muffled grumble. She turned to see the sunlight hitting Scar’s face, and suppressed the urge to laugh. His eyes opened slowly, he yawned widely, and noticed that she too was awake. “Oh. Good,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you before the others awoke.” He strolled out of the cave, motioning for her to follow. “Come.” Zira followed silently. The sun was streaking it’s brilliant colors through the sky as the stars fading from her perception, and the air felt cool and fresh in her lungs. Things around her didn’t look quite as nice as Shikenta had described them, but it was paradise compared to some other places she had seen. She took a deep breath. Oh, it was good to be alive. “Well,” Scar broke into her peaceful thoughts “I can tell you right from the start that there will be some things you won’t like about living here, but if you want to stay, you’ll have to grin and bear it. Or just bear it.” Haha, Zira thought. It was too early in the morning for sarcasm. “I may as well start with the worst one.... we... I have allowed a band of hyenas to live here -- “Hyenas!?!” Zira was shocked. Even as an outcast and a rouge, Zira knew that the hyena was the lion’s worst enemy. What lion in his right mind would - “I know what you must be thinking,” Scar said in an impassive voice, “but I actually do have control over the little brutes, and, distasteful as they are, they do have certain.......... uses. When they bother to get themselves organized they can actually manage to make rather nice kills, and we’ve seen less injuries due to vultures since their... admittance. They’ve kept leopards and jackals out of the Pridelands with surprising success.” Zira struggled to absorb these facts, but only the word hyena was burned into her brain. Perhaps a ... joint-venture (??) could be mutually beneficial, but.... “Let’s just say... I have my reasons.” Scar said, as if reading her unspoken thoughts. “Think of them as a necessary evil.” Only you would have the gall to make evils necessary, Zira thought, not knowing whether to admire his courage or scoff at his idiocy. Scar glanced up sharply. Wait a minute, Zira thought - did I say that out loud? Damn. Damn! What is it with me, ever since I met this lion, I’ve been... Scar bent closer to her smiled sinisterly. His penetrating eyes sent a little shiver down her spine. “Perhaps you are right, Zira,” it was the first time he had said her name, and something about the way he said it quickened the beating of her heart. This is getting more ridiculous by the minute, Zira decided, resolving not to let him get to her. “In any case,” he said in a different tone, “there will be other things.. little things... that may annoy you, like having to defer to Sarabi, for instance.” Zira swallowed a growl. “She leads most of the hunting parties, and even I must admit she has a great deal of skill. However,” he added, “I have been looking for another capable lioness to lead a second party so we can double our kill count, just in case. If your performance yesterday is any indication, you may be just what we need.” Zira felt herself fill with pride. Her first day, and she was already in line for an important position! I guess I must have impressed him as much as he impressed me, she thought, grinning. “Oh no, don’t start strutting about yet,” Scar warned, seeing her elated expression. “I didn’t say for certain. I’ll need a few more stellar reports on your hunting skills from the queen herself till she and I can come to an agreement on the matter. Think you can do a few more repeat performances?” His tone was jeering, meant to goad her on, and despite herself Zira felt her temper rising. How was it that he knew just how to get under her skin, when they had only met yesterday? Zira drew herself up. “You needn’t worry about it, your highness.” she said stiffly, almost scornfully. “I think I can manage to make enough decent kills to impress your queen.” “I told you, she not my queen,” Scar snapped. “Foolish little.... you mustn’t take words like that to heart, you know. It’s just what I do, it’s who I am.” Zira’s eyes widened. Was he apologizing? It was the last thing she had expected. He looked as surprised as she did at this.... this whatever-it-was. Scar had never apologized for anything in his life, and here he was making excuses to this emaciated stranger. What was she to him anyway? “And.... when will I be going hunting ....?” Zira asked softly. “Soon,” Scar’s tone was brusque. I’ll be damned if I care about hurting her feelings, he thought. I don’t care about anyone. “And as for all this.. highness business.... well, most of the lionesses just call me by name... I find often find titles do not instantly command respect.... indeed, for me, they had done mostly the opposite.. so... there’s no need for all of this “sire and “highness” other nonsense. Just call me my name. That will do. “Alright... Scar.” The feeling of his name on her tongue, the sound of it. It sounded like pain, rage, darkness. It sounded like being unwanted and alone. He looked up at her; his gaze grew more intense, more challenging, more penetrating, as if to say go ahead. Just try to know me. I dare you. But Zira could understand his pain better than Scar realized, and her gaze did not waver. In the end it was Scar who let his eyes drop. A feeling of elation swept over her, and Scar felt anger rise up in him, a blanket to smother anything else. No one had ever done that to him before. Who did she think she was? “Sarabi will be waiting for her precious explanation,” he snarled, and spun around without bothering to see if she would follow. Zira trotted slowly behind him, a proud smile still on her face. Oh, I think I am going to like it here, she thought. I am going to like it very much. * * * * * * Sarabi was waiting when they arrived back at Pride Rock, and she did indeed demand her explanation, which Scar gave in concise, biting terms that left no room for argument. Then came a hurried introduction to the other lionesses, including Safrina, the one who had thanked and congratulated her last night. Zira gave her a friendly smile and told her how grateful she herself was to hear a kind voice in that dark cave. Used to making snap judgments, Zira’s liking of Safrina was as immediate and lasting as her dislike of Sarabi. She reminded herself that this was the lioness she needed to impress and tried to sound amiable and obedient, but she was afraid her words came out coldly and stiffly. She could only hope Sarabi didn’t notice. The queen wasted no time; it was the dry season, which meant good grazing grass was scarce, and if grass was scarce, so were beasts-of-prey. As Safrina, Sarabi, herself and two other lionesses set off, Zira glanced back to where Scar lay skulking in the shadows. Well, she thought, I can’t let him get away with that. Strutting stiffly, Zira did a comical, exaggerated imitation of Sarabi demanding explanations and giving orders. She was doing it right up to the minute Sarabi turned around - instantly, she assumed her normal stature and looked back at the leader with an impassive face. Shaking off her feelings of unease, Sarabi turned her attention back into the horizon in front of her. Zira smiled slyly and looked back over her shoulder. Scar had flopped down on one side and was helplessly, hopelessly shaking with a laughter he strove to keep silent from Sarabi’s attuned, sensitive ears. The hunt went well: Zira did everything Sarabi told her to do, and grudgingly admitted to herself that the queen was indeed a careful and capable leader. She knew she had made an impression when she knocked their prey down by waiting till the last minute and then barreling into its side, allowing the other lionesses to set to work. She instinctively went for the throat, remembered herself, and respectfully waited for Sarabi to make the deathbite. She looked pleased; the prey had been a small but fattened mother, an impala with a slightly twisted ankle who was nevertheless still impressively fast. She looked up at Zira. “You did very well,” she conceded. Hmph, sure showed you didn’t I, Zira thought proudly. “You all did,” Sarabi added, raising her voice to include the rest of them. We should save some for the others, keep that in mind, but there’s no reason not to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Let’s eat!” They all dug in voraciously, rested a bit in the sun, and then began to drag their kill home. The other lionesses fell to it as quickly as their peers had, and soon there was nothing left but skin and bone. Still, it had made a decent meal for every one. Not a huge meal by any means, but a nice little mid-morning something to keep the stomach quiet. “She did fine. Very well in fact. Her only problem seems to be an tendency to dominate all aspects of the hunt. I suppose it’s because she’s so used to hunting alone. A few more practice runs with us and I’ll be well satisfied to set her out with a party of her own,” Sarabi gave her report to a pleased-looking Scar. “Well then,” he said to Sarabi, sharing a small, knowing smile with Zira, “it seems we won’t be eating as badly as you thought, hm?” Zira went on two more hunts with Sarabi and her party, both successful. Conscious of the need to keep impressing her, Zira did all the queen said and made sure she didn’t “dominate” the hunt. Dominate. Hmph. That just means I did most of the work, so she can’t claim any of the credit. But Zira masked her hostile feelings well. At least it was always a way to make Scar laugh. Zira led her first party soon after, composed of herself, Safrina and her daughter Nala, and a lioness called Kitana. She was impressed with Nala’s hunting skills. Such patience was rare in one so young. But then, she reminded herself, she wasn’t as old as Safrina either. The hardships of her old life had aged her prematurely, but as her emaciation faded away under the days of good eating, she began to look less vicious and a great deal younger, when her face held the right expression of softness, which was rare. She made fast friends with Safrina and her daughter, but could not bring herself to make friendly overtures to Sarabi. The feeling seemed mutual, and neither wished to provoke the other, so they stayed out of each other’s way, interacting only when absolutely necessary. Zira hunted with the aforementioned lionesses, and a few others: Lakana, Fessral, Ratha, and Katya, Kitana’s sister. They were all good friends and often fed better than Sarabi’s band, since, with a little coaxing from Zira, Scar would often scout out the best places for them to go hunting before they actually left. But what a... well, she certainly had an interesting time convincing him. “I think it’s a fine idea!” Zira said the first time she asked, angry at the king for so quickly dismissing her scouting plan. “It would save us -” “It’s your job to do the hunting! I’m not going to do it for you!” “The only thing you’d have to do, your majesty,” Zira snarled “is walk on ahead and give us an idea of which animals we should target in a heard. Don’t worry,” she jeered at him, ignoring his warning growls, “like any other male, you don’t have to do any of the real hunting. Leave that to me. All you have to do is be our lookout! Or is that too much for you too handle?” “How dare you!” Scar roared, and for a moment Zira thought he was going to strike her. Despite her aggressive stance, Scar must have read this expression in her face, for he slowly lowered his paw and looked at Zira more closely. His anger seemed to be lessened, at least for the moment, “So,” he said, “I suppose I should be glad you still fear me.” He wasn’t glad. He wasn’t glad at all. It was only that she knew just how to get past his defenses, under his skin..... “I...” for once, Zira did not sound so fearsome. “I thought... I thought you might...” “Zira,” Scar leaned closer to her, “I would not hurt you, I..... I will do as you ask.... just.... stay here.....only a moment....” Zira stared at him, torn between disbelief and delight. He came closer still, so close that they almost touched. She thought of all the time she’d spent on her own, lonely but content, because it didn’t matter where she went, if she lived or died, because...... there was no one to care ...... or to hurt her. He was so near.....no. She shouldn’t. But....only a moment..... and he was so very, very near.... Quickly, before her disbelief dragged her away, she nuzzled him under the chin. She felt the gentle vibrating of his throat as a deep purr rose up in him. Despite her doubts, Zira felt herself purring too. For a moment, that was all she wanted. Then she remembered herself, her lifetime of painful lessons and experiences. She stiffened, and dashed out of the cave, leaving Scar to stare after her, with a distinctly uncharacteristic expression on his face. * * * * * * At least Zira had gotten one thing she wanted. The lionesses she now thought of as “hers,” who had previously been the poorest-fed in the pride, flourished under her strong leader ship and were now fleshed out with good eating. All of them, including Zira, were very grateful to Scar for that. “Whew,” Kitana said as she flopped down on the ground, her stomach swelled with a recent meal. “I’m never eating again!” “Good. More for the rest of us, then,” Zira said, teasing her friend, and Kitana swiped a paw at her in playful annoyance. “Very funny, Zira,” she yawned. “I see your sarcasm is on full kilt today. I swear, it’s getting downright ridiculous how much Scar is rubbing off on you.” “He is not!” Zira’s heated response surprised and intrigued Kitana. “Oooh,” she said, rolling over on her side, “did I hit a sensitive spot?” “No....I just prefer to be referred to as an individual,” Zira said stiffly, hoping her tone would fool the her companion. But it was hopeless. “H-hm. Sure,” Kitana said knowingly. “Well,” she continued, pretending to change the subject, “it certainly is a beautiful day out.” “Humph. It’s hot and the grass is brown,” Zira muttered, still mad at her friend for teasing her. “Not too gorgeous if you ask me.” “Oh, Zira,” Kitana laughed, “just a minute ago, you were as content as the rest of us! Very moody today, aren’t you? Now let me see, who does that remind me of?” “Kitana -” “Shh, wait, it’s coming to me . . .” “Kitana -” “Ah, the mists are clearing . . .” “Kitana-” “Oh well,” Kitana said casually, deflating some of Zira’s rising anger. “Okay, so maybe it’s not a gorgeous day out, but it’s better than staying home and watching you two flirt.” Zira’s jawed dropped. It was the last thing she had expected. She felt her face grow warm, and she was unable to speak for several seconds. When she finally did, it was to shout: “We do not!” “Oh, please, Zira,” the other lioness said, rolling her eyes. “Come on. Almost every day now he circles you like a bird ready to swoop down at any moment, and then you play hard to get and move out of range before he has a chance to strike. Every time you ask him to scout for us, we have to watch the two of you dance around each other. If I were you, I’d find it much more fun to give in than to resist... I would -” “That’s enough!” Zira snarled, infuriated by the smug expression of amusement her friend had on her face. “Ok, ok,” said her fellow hunter, as though she was shocked by Zira’s anger. She yawned, half-heartedly licked a paw, and then treated herself to a long, leisurely stretch. “Well,” she said mildly, “better head home, huh?” “Hmph.” Zira growled and got up stiffly, her heart thudding in her chest. Did all the lionesses really.......... and was Scar....? ........... grrr, stupid Kitana. The aforementioned lioness trotted happily ahead while Zira slowly glowered behind her. When Zira was a good distance away, Kitana looked back at her and shouted: “When you have a litter of dark little cubs, just don’t say I didn’t warn you!” The only thing Zira could think, as she dashed wildly after her laughing comrade, was that she had never seen any other lioness move so fast in her entire life. But in the months that followed, Kitana had much less time to tease Zira; it was the one good result of the seemingly endless dry season. Life in her new home was far from easy; rain was especially scarce this year, and all the lionesses looked up eagerly to the sky each morning, scanning the horizon for a wisp of clouds. On most days, all they saw was the indifferent sky and it’s cruel sun beating down. The hunting parties had to go farther and farther out to find good kills. However, with careful planning and determination, they still managed to eat fairly well. She counted herself fortunate. The only problem was, the farther they went out to find a kill, the darker the king’s mood seemed to become. He was constantly arguing with Sarabi, and one evening Zira caught a piece of their heated discussion: “Would you stop comparing us! I’m nothing like him.” “Yes, you’ve made that very clear,” Sarabi’s voice was laced with scorn. Drawn in by their words, Zira crept closer and perked up her ears. “Thank you so much, my dear, you always manage to find the most elegant words of praise.” Scar’s sarcasm was on full blast. That meant all his defenses were up. Didn’t Sarabi know how much she was hurting him? Why did she always to compare him to this... this.. “Mufasa would’ve --” Sarabi started in again “ I don’t care what Mufasa would’ve done! I am sick of his name so constantly on your lips! He is dead! Do you hear me!? Dead! Can you not get it through your head after all these years!? He is gone and no amount of grieving your loss or lamenting over the pitiful successor he left behind --” “I -- I didn’t say that ---” “Oh come now, Sarabi,” Scar’s voice was low and dangerous. “You know you said it. You know quite well. And you meant every word.” She heard a shuffle of movement in the cave, and sensed rather than saw that Scar had turned his back to Sarabi. “Scar, I....” Sarabi’s voice was tight with pain. Always, always, ever since that horrible night when she had learned of husband’s death, and that of her only son’s, she had done everything to keep their memories alive. She had wanted -- no, she had needed to feel their presence, his presence, somehow still with her. But now .....she was just tired. So tired. Tired of the long hunts, the snarling hyenas, Scar’s helpless anger and Zira’s petty mockeries. Tired even of her own cold dignity. Her pride. But it was all that she had. All that was left. The only thing left. “Get out,” he said it quietly. It would have been far less threatening if he had yelled at her again. “Get out, before I do something we’ll both regret. Or perhaps only one of us will.” Sarabi felt herself grow cold. She got out. She got out so fast she didn’t even notice Zira, crouched behind the rocks, watching. Waiting. The broken way Sarabi ran. The pain on her face.... Zira walked towards the mouth of the cave, but hesitated to go inside. After thinking about it, she quickly and quietly retreated. Despite her dislike of the queen, her heart was moved to pity. She must find out more about this - this Mufasa, and how he had died. * * * * * * “Mufasa?” Safrina’s usually bright voice was duller to today; between the hyenas and the drought, even “her” lionesses were feeling the strain. But there was something else too, a hint of sadness in her voice which mirrored that in Sarabi’s. “Well,” she swallowed “you know he was Scar’s brother-- “Yes, yes I know that,” Zira murmured impatiently, “But how did he....?” She let the question hang in the air. Safrina looked up, then down. Zira thought she saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes. But this time, instead of feeling pity, she was annoyed. Death, in it’s all horror, was an inevitable part of life. This “Great King” had been dead for years -- these pridelanders had had plenty of time to grieve. And Zira new from her experiences outside the Pridelands that there were worse things that could happen. But now Safrina was looking up at her again, and she hastened to put a sympathetic expression on her face, hoping the lioness would relate to her what had happened all those years ago. “There....there was a stampede in the gorge,” Safrina began in a small voice, “Simba.... his cub... was caught in middle of it. Even though it was nearly impossible he tried to save him and....” she didn’t finish, but the obvious, gruesome conclusion made even Zira’s eyes widen. Well no wonder..... “And not even the cub to survive him,” Zira thought of all the times she had made fun of Sarabi, and felt a sharp stab of guilt. Well how was I supposed to know, she told herself, but the feeling did not go away. “Yes,” Safrina said, her voice barely above a whisper. “After Scar told us, we-- “He told you!?” “Well, yes,” she replied mildly, puzzled at Zira’s excited response. “After all, he was the only one who saw anything. Oh, well I guess Zazu might’ve seen something,” she corrected herself, referring to that annoying little majordomo, “but somehow he was knocked unconscious after he saw Mufasa jump in.” Zira drew in a sharp breath. Her heart thudded in her chest, but this time it was not with pleasure or excitement. I was right, she thought, I was right. You can’t ever let yourself ... “Zira?” Safrina had always seemed rather cub-like to Zira, almost clinging, and because of this her feelings for the naive pridelander sometimes wavered a little between strong affection and mild distrain. But now, leaning towards Zira with her long, thin face and wide-open eyes, she was the very picture of innocence. Innocence wronged. “Zira? Is everything alright?” “Ye- yes,” Zira managed, with what she hoped was a reassuringly normal expression. “I umm... I-I just stepped on a thistle, that’s all.” “Oh,” Safrina’s questioning features instantly relaxed into and expression of relief. Oh, my dear, you are far too trusting. All of you are. “You got me worried for a minute there. Well,” she said, with a bright smile that did nothing to hide her tears, “shall we see what we can scrounge up for dinner today?” Zira looked at the sky. It was dark and cloudy, a sure sign of rain. Yesterday, that would have pleased her. But today, her eyes were drawn to two vultures circling a carcass she couldn’t identify. An eerie laughter soon announced that the hyenas had found it as well, and they came and fed viciously on... could it be one of their own? Zira shuddered. Once she knew the story, the pieces had fallen into place in her brain like a flash. How could it be that no one else had guessed the truth? “No, “ she told Safrina in a hollow voice. They weren’t as desperate as those hyenas. Not yet. But if things kept on going like this.... “Not today.” * * *