He watched them from atop a gentle rolling hill, mindfully keeping his distance. His ears twitched when the winds changed. He moved quickly behind the trunk of a large tree where the direction of the shifting breeze carried his scent away from the valley instead of to it. His only thought was on being careful to not make his presence known.
Down at the valley, the largest of the five lionesses was languidly pacing in front of the others. Her stride was measured and strong, every step was a performance. The arc of her paws mid step made them seem light, weightless. It wasn’t until they landed on the ground when they tensed against the earth that one was reminded of the muscle underneath the soft straw colored coat. Every step ended with her making a fist, culminating with a quick flash of her claws as they appeared from inside the pads of her paws, cutting into the dirt.
Even from as far away as he was, he could feel the rumble of her voice vibrating in the hollows of his teeth.
He shuddered when she finally roared, ordering the other lionesses up onto their feet.
“Your mother is not pleased.”
When he turned to see who it was behind him, his heart skipped a beat. Like everyone else, the first thing he saw was the mane. Imposing and grand, it practically crowded out the sky in his eyes. The meager tufts of gold on his own head and cheeks paled in comparison.
He bent his head low and said, “Father.”
It was truly a crown fit for a king.
“So. How bad did her congress with her court really get?”
His father sat next to him. He squeezed his son out a tad just to make sure that he got the majority of the shade.
“I couldn’t really hear them from here, father.”
“That’s alright, my son. I know exactly why your mother’s blood is boiling.”
He turned back down towards the valley but they were already gone.
“Why?” he asked his father.
“Have you not heard the news, my boy? The king of the south is dead.”
The mere mention of the name his father spoke cause him snarl and bare fangs. The rumble that he heard earlier from his mother, he tasted hot inside his own throat.
The king chuffed and playfully swung an open paw at his son’s head.
“You are your mother’s son, aren’t you?”
The son shook his head away from his father’s loving gesture and turned his back to him. He felt the rumble growing inside his belly.
“Is it time then, father? Finally, after all these years?!”
The king considered the questions and the young son with the eyes filled with murder that asked them.
“He has a son, too. Did you know that? The king of the south is dead, murdered, and he left behind him a son who just lost his father. The history between his family and ours will never be forgotten, least of all by me. But the son he left behind was never part of that history. The one who wronged me all those years ago, who wronged your mother… is gone. We are still here. We won. Do you understand, my son? We won. Their kingdom is in shambles. If what I suspect is true then the one who will next take their throne will be the one who will ultimately bury them all. The court, the kingdom, the widow and the orphan. They will all disappear, swallowed by their own tragedy.”
The king stood, his ears twitched when the winds changed.
“What of us, hmmm? Would you have me risk our health to claim a poisoned land? To settle a debt that was already paid for in blood? What if invasion cost me my life or that of your mother’s? Or yours? I would not ever wish for whatever happened to that boy from the south to happen to you, my son. Again I ask, what of us? We are here, safe and together. We won. Isn’t that enough?”
He felt the anger inside him melt away with every deep breath he took. The wind that filled his lungs travelled from the farthest corner of their kingdom and was spiced with the scent of his father, his mother, their pride and every animal under their protection. When he exhaled, he saw that his father was already making his way back home.
“Who’d want to live next to an elephant graveyard anyhow?”
And he ran after him.