Chapter 1 - New Beginnings

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For many, conflict is a rare and unwelcome visitor in one's life. For others, however, it is an all too common companion on our journey through the Circle of Life.

In Mohatu's life, conflict seemed to follow him like a shadow on a cloudless day. The second of three sons born to a prosperous king, he frequently found himself playing family mediator between his older, headstrong brother and younger, carefree sibling. Nobody is perfect and the king was no exception. Showing strong favoritism for his first-born, he often left the two younger lions out of conversations and walkabouts, as he felt they'd never face the same situations their elder brother was destined to face.

The one bright spot in an otherwise teeth-grinding existence for Mohatu was his mate, Tetema. The daughter of a nomadic lioness who joined the pride several years earlier, Tetema was barely an adolescent when she met Mohatu. Though they initially fought more than siblings, love eventually grew between the two and they became mates shortly after reaching adulthood.

Bright spots have an unfortunate habit of being painfully brief. When Tetema became pregnant, Mohatu's father reacted with livid anger! He irrationally accused Mohatu of plotting to overthrow him and banished the two from the pride. As the pair bid goodbye to their pridemates, however, Mohatu's mother's wise words were able to calm the King enough to buy them a reprieve of sorts. Rather than banishment from his father's lands, Mohatu and his mate would merely be prohibited from entering the rocky, closed-ended canyon that served as the pride's home and sleeping area.

Prosperous kings rarely live quiet lives. Other prides compete for resources and wars break out from time to time when food grows scarce. One night as the pride lay sleeping, one such pride invaded their home and attacked without warning. The Prince was killed in the first attack and the king died shortly thereafter. The canyon was painted red with the blood of victims of the attack who found themselves with nowhere to go and nobody to turn to for leadership.

As luck would have it, his father's irrationality ended up being the only thing that saved Mohatu and Tetema from a bloody end. They slept nearby, but as luck would have it, on the night of the attack, the pair was downwind from the canyon and the attacking pride had no way of knowing Mohatu and Tetema weren't with their pride-mates when the rather one-sided battle broke out.

Awakened by the roars and other sounds of battle, Mohatu and his mate crept to the rim of the canyon only to catch sight of the last remnants of the fight - Mohatu's younger brother's throat being ripped out by an attacking lion. With a roar of anguish, Mohatu gave their presence away to the lions below, who immediately gave chase.

Running for your lives is never an easy task and it's made doubly difficult when your mate is pregnant. As the pair ran from the canyon, Mohatu realized they'd never outrun the attackers together. When they reached a river, he told Tetema to cross the rushing waters and continue without him while he ran along the river bank, intending to mislead those who were tracking the two. Though his intent was to double-back a short time later, he ended up taking hours longer than intended to retrace his steps to rejoin his mate.

The delay and the distance he was forced to detour made it impossible for Mohatu to locate Tetema's scent once he finally made it across the river. He was forced to spend days heading in the same general direction, hoping to catch up with his lost mate.

Tetema, meanwhile, had continued onward and eventually chose a point on the horizon to keep herself from circling back the way she had come. Only fear for the safety of her unborn cubs kept her on her path - it galled her that she couldn't turn back and help her mate or even find out if he lived!

Hours turned into days with barely a pause to hunt and keep hunger at bay, though stress was definitely taking a toll on her appetite. Slowly her chosen destination grew closer and despite having lost track of time, Tetema finally reached what turned out to be a huge monolithic rock formation in the middle of the savanna.

Never one to give up hope, Mohatu struck off in the same general direction. On his second night of travelling, fighting off waves of grief and guilt for not having done more to help save his family and pride-mates, Mohatu dreamt of his mother. In his dream, she spoke to him from the heavens - much as one of the Great Kings of the Past she'd often told him about when he was a cub - and told him to find the tallest peak on the horizon and to head for it. At first light, Mohatu awoke with that thought fresh in his mind and immediately set about trying to find such a sight. A cloudy day hindered his progress, but the next morning he awoke and was able to pick out the tallest peak on the horizon. As he headed for his chosen destination, he was overwhelmed with the fear that Tetema was dead and this was all for naught. Regardless, he perservered and refused to give up.

Unfortunately, the tallest point he'd chosen wasn't the same stone monolith Tetema had seen, but was rather a mountain a day or so from Tetema's destination. After a brief visit with a friendly pride of lions to recuperate a little, Mohatu headed out, determined to find his mate or die trying.

He struck off in the same direction he'd been heading before he found the friendly pride and in just a couple of hours spotted what could only be the 'tallest peak' he'd dreamed about. With renewed determination, Mohatu made the trek across the savanna in what some might consider record time. As he neared the strangely shaped formation of rocks, Mohatu caught scent of his mate. Overwhelmed with joy, he raced around a fall of rocks and skidded to a stop as he caught sight of his beloved - and their newborn cub.

Tetema lifted her eyes to meet her mate's gaze as he rounded the pile of stone, expression heavy with a sadness of such magnetude that even her the sight of her mate couldn't lift its weight. She cast her gaze around her in the hope that Mohatu would understand what had happened without her trying to put words to it.

Confused by her expression, Mohatu felt momentary joy as he spied three cubs at his mate's side. Fate quickly crushed the feeling as he realized only one was moving. Silently padding over, he leaned down and rested his forehead against Tetema's before silently setting about moving the stillborn cubs out of her sight and taking them some distance away from the rocks in the hopes that his mate would be able to rest better without being reminded of what the trek to their destination had cost the two young mates.

Mohatu silently squeezed past the boulders that nearly blocked the entrance to the huge cavern. He took a deep breath and slowly let it out, trying to shake off the heavy sadness he felt from having had to carry away the stillborn cubs. After a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darker cavern, Mohatu padded over to Tetema's side to lightly nuzzle her shoulder before he settled to his haunches and looked to his mate with quiet concern.

The lioness was in very poor shape. Prey was abundant in the grasslands surrounding the rock, but Tetema had a hard time catching anything substantial due to fatigue, weakness, and pregnancy. Though the pregnancy was no longer an issue, the fatigue and weakness was, now combined with the sadness of having lost two cubs. At least the cavern was more or less safe from intruders. At her side, the single surving cub slept soundly. In his sleep, he wiggled around a little, little paws reaching for the movements of two others he'd come to know, though he'll never find them again.

Tetema startled awake, taking several moments before she identified the additional adult in the cavern as her mate. "...I guess I didn't do a very good job, did I?" she asked tentatively.

Mohatu swallowed a sigh before he leaned closer to nose Tetema's cheek reassuringly. He spoke softly, voice deepened by his distress and sadness, "You're alive. And so is..." the lion trailed off, as he suddenly realized he had no idea what to call his ... And then he realized he didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl. Things had just happened too fast. He'd barely grasped the thought that he'd truly found his other half once again! Coppery eyes met Tetema's own and he finally finished his remark, "...our cub." Mohatu glanced around as he continued, "Seems like you found a good spot for the time being, too, 'tema."

"But... two of them died. Were already dead when they were born," the lioness countered after a breath. "And he's so weak, even now..." Tetema's head returned to her paws. "Hunting is so hard... Moving is hard. We can't fight, so hiding seemed the best thing to do," she said, sounding utterly hopeless.

Mohatu nodded even as he felt his heart break a little, knowing the pain he was feeling was nothing compared to Tetema's. He opened his mouth to reassure his mate once more, but froze, tensed, and then rose to his paws in an instinctively defensive motion all in the space of a heartbeat when he heard the noise of a curious cheetah as she found her way into the cavern. Apparently on a jaunt to explore unknown regions, she had inadvertently stumbled onto the grieving pair of lions in her adventures.

Mohatu stepped forward a pace or two, to place himself between his mate and cub and the potential threat. Thanks to having been in the cavern a bit longer than the new arrival, he was able to spot the cheetah and let loose a low, throaty growl of warning before she got so close that an altercation was inevitable, "Who's there?" he demanded, trying to sound authoritative, but failing miserably.

For a few tense minutes, the arrival and the battered and beaten pair of lions verbally sparred for awhile. Neither seemed to want to concede that they didn't lay claim to the lands, but caution drove them both to hedge their bets when dealing with unknowns. Both the lions and the cheetah found the other to be a new and odd experience, with the cheetah often speaking in rhyme or riddles, while the politics of leonine life frequently baffled the spotted feline.

---

Over the next days and weeks, the lions grew stronger and were able to hunt with more frequency. Their bodies filled out and Mohatu's ragged mane began to grow back in. Ahadi found his voice and started to explore his surroundings. The cheetah - known as Mishwasha - became a somewhat constant, if odd, companion of the trio of lions.

One evening, an unseasonally late thunderstorm rolled through the region and provided an excellent opportunity for Ahadi to be exposed to the Great Kings of the Past.

A loud clap of thunder, followed closely by a bright flash of lightening in the main cavern's entrance, caught the attention of the trio of lions and their cheetah companion. The thunder managed to shake a little bit of dust loose from somewhere above the heads of the group, while outside, the pitter-patter of rain splattered against rocks.

Mishwasha lay on the rocky floor of the cavern, gazing out into the evening rain as she enjoyed the shelter provided by the huge cavern. Over the weeks, trust had grown between the cheetah and Mohatu, and was probably the only reason she felt comfortable turning her back on the two larger felines.

Tetema was mildly interested in the storm outside, or at least where it was leaking into the cavern. Thankfully, it wasn't a large leak, but it was dripping pretty steadily into the cistern in the adjacent cave. "I wouldn't want to be on top of this rock with all of that lightning," she said.

Ahadi, who had been napping, was awakened by the boom of the thunderclap and as Mohatu was the nearest of the other three felines in the cavern, dove behind the larger lion to seek shelter from the storm.

His father, for his part, had also been napping but wasn't awakened until his son decided to use him as a hiding spot from the storm. The big lion sat up and opened his bleary eyes before he glanced back toward his son, "Wha?" He shook his head drowsily and glanced around the cavern as he tried to gather his wits.

Ahadi carefully crept his forepaws up Mohatu's flanks to his lower back before he peeked over the larger lion as best as he could. He stood on his father's tail to give himself a little more height. "Scawy!" he exclaimed with an underlining mewl, then dove back behind Mohatu, unwilling to face the scary light show for any longer than was necessary.

Mohatu glanced back down to where his son was crawling up along his back and chuckled softly. He blinked as another crack of thunder rattled the cavern and smiled reassuringly to his son as he softly spoke, "C'mere, Ahadi. It's just noisy, it won't hurt you." He glanced back up toward the ceiling as a bit of dust settled on his muzzle and hoped that wasn't an empty promise.

As Ahadi began creeping along his father's side toward the larger lion's forepaws, another lightning bolt struck somewhere outside and sent him scurrying over to his mother's protective embrace. Mohatu glanced down to his son and chuckled, "Ahadi.. It's okay. The Great Kings of the Past might be having a disagreement, but they never fight for long."

Ahadi peeked out from behind his mother's foreleg to gaze up to his father, "Gweat kings?" he asked. "Dey scawy! Da-dy scawr dem away?"

Mohatu chuckled softly and crouched down so he was relatively nose-to-nose with his son. "I can't scare them away, kiddo. The Kings are older and wiser than you or I. And a little out of reach," he added with a wry grin. "It'll be okay. Rain is good, anyway. It'll fill up the river and," at this point he glanced towards the cistern in the adjacent cavern, "our little pool of water, too."

One of Mishwasha's ears flicked when the cub voice spok the term, 'Great Kings.' It was both endearing as the cub stumbled with pronunciation and distressing. She knew about the Great Kings and it made her depressed more than anything. "At least we won't go thirsty," she remarked quietly to Mohatu's words, her sunken state of mind evident in her tone.

Tetema looked down at Ahadi and lowered her head to give the cub's forehead a couple of licks. "They're full of noise more than anything else," she said with a couple lashes of her tail as she glanced towards the cheetah, then the exit to the cavern, and finally looked back down at her son. "Sometimes you can't do much but wait until it goes away."

Ahadi peeked out a bit further. "Why noishy?" he asked, creeping out from his hiding spot. He gave a bit of a purr at his mother's licks and pressed up against her chin when she got close enough. "Dey hungwy?" From a cub's perspective it made sense. After all, cubs get noisy when they're hungry, right?

Mohatu chuckled softly as he sat back up and his tailtip flicked a time or two, "Mother always said they were noisiest when they were arguing over something important." A thought crossed his mind and his expression turned dark for the briefest of moments, but he appeared to decide not to share the thought with anyone as he quickly lost the darker bits of the expression on his face. Mohatu shrugged one shoulder, "I don't know if they're hungry or not, Ahadi. I've never spoken with them. If I do, I'll try and remember to ask." The lion shot Mishwasha a less-than-happy glance for a moment before he returned his gaze to Tetema to nod in agreement, "Waiting it out is usually the best."

"A lot of lions living together tend to roar. A lot. I guess you wouldn't say the Great Kings are living together, exactly... but there's a lot of them," Tetema elaborated a little bit more, a faint bit of wistfulness in her tone. "They'll eventually go back to sleep."

Ahadi tilted his head up to Mohatu. "Hungwy kings!" he giggled as daddy told him he'd check if they get hungry or not. He then tilted his head up to his mother. "Why dey wawr?" he asked, not quite getting the concept. Mohatu hadn't had to really roar since Ahadi's birth, so he wasn't not sure what it was. Which brought up his next question. "Wass wawr?"

Mohatu smiled to his son before he rose to his feet to start pacing around the circumference of the cavern. He didn't stop until he neared the only working entrance and peered out at the rain. He could see flashes of lightning in the distance, but the storm seemed to be settling down into a steady, calm downpour. He glanced over his shoulder to Tetema as his son asked about roaring, but as the cub was looking at his mother, the lion decided to let her field that pair of questions.

"Roar? It's a kind of noise lions make, usually when they're far apart and trying to find other lions, or a noise made to scare off someone they don't want around," Tetema explained. Given the closed quarters of the cavern, she really didn't feel like demonstrating.

At some point during Tetema's explanation, Ahadi had managed to drift off into a light catnap.

Mohatu couldn't help but chuckle as he shook his head and turned to slowly pad back over to Tetema, "I didn't want to go out into the rain just to demonstrate roaring anyway."

As the cub slept, the storm continued to bathe the Pride Lands with a steady, cleansing rain. Conversation faded as the evening wore on, the day coming to a calm close.

---

Days passed and as Ahadi grew more adventuresome, he began exploring the area around Pride Rock. If his parents weren't awake, the ever present cheetah - Mishwasha - became his defacto nanny as she accompanied the boy wherever he ventured outside of the main cavern.

Much to Mohatu and Tetema's consternation, however, this led to an encounter with a lioness and her cubs that Ahadi's parents wouldn't hear about until days later. As the story came to light, Mohatu's concerns about the family's safety in Pride Rock were brought forth once more. While their safety was always of paramount importance to the lion, reminders of the bloody demise of his father's pride would likely always cause Mohatu no small measure of sadness and fear.


"Hindsight can help a king avoid past mistakes. Foresight can make him a mighty leader. But to truly live and be the best king he can possibly be? He must stop and look around from time to time." --Unknown

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