Excerpt from "Shadow of a Lion"



A brief chapter from the novel where the main character has gone into exile and taken in by another group after being found half-dead and hallucinating. The whole novel can be purchased in Kindle, Physical, or Audio formats at http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Lion-Matthew-Rhodes/dp/1517707692/

            Malaika wasn’t so sure about his ability to protect anyone, that’s the reason, he told himself, that he left the pride. He could have killed the human he had under his paw. At what cost? His own life had been out of control and all over the fact; he had a shaitani dwelling within him. They said they would come after him if they found out he lied. They would then slaughter the Pride. Still he felt unsure if he was able to live. He felt like he had nothing to live for, no love to call his own. In fact, no one in the Pride suited him.

            None of it mattered now. He spent the last forte night trying to seek his own answers, find his own place in life, but that seemed to escape him as well. He was weary and thirsty never stopping once to lap up a drink. It seemed like his shaitani played games with him as well. Such a devious ploy to make sure Malaika never saw the light of day again. As he lay panting and exhausted under an acacia tree, he thought he saw a familiar lion moving towards him. Malaika swallowed trying to move but couldn’t. The image of the lion moved closer to him and whispered.

            “Don’t lose faith.”

            “Father?” Malaika tried to yell with his scratchy dry throat. “Have you come to take me home?”

            “It’s not your time yet,” the soft gentle voice whispered again. Malaika tried to get up but couldn’t move.

            “Easy now.” another voice said as his father faded from his sight.

            “Father, don’t go!” Malaika cried. He felt a paw push him back down as he tried to move.

            “You’re in no condition to go anywhere,” the voice said again. As Malaika’s eyes focused, he could make out a cheetah standing over him. The cheetah looked away.

            “Linux, I need your help over here.” the cheetah turned back and whispered. “Just relax.”

            The world around Malaika began to spin as he lost consciousness.

*   *   *

            The day’s sun started to set in the west bringing with it a myriad of reds and pastels of blue. As the last rays of the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, night conquered the land with no moon to light the plains. The animals didn’t care. They knew the night all too well, with the ability to see in the darkest of places. For many it was a reprieve from the heat, for others it was a time to come out and feast. The bats that hid during the day would hunt for insects in the night.

            A lone white lioness wandered the lands thinking to herself. She wasn’t sure if she could call the lands home for her Pride. It was at least a place to inhabit for now, although the Pride had only been together for a few seasons. She and Linux, a human she had befriended, as well as a few others built the Pride on certain guiding principles. They would help all that asked for assistance, and give shelter to those in need. All rogues were welcome as long as they didn’t cause any harm to the inhabitants. As well, the members of the Pride had to conduct themselves in a friendly manner.

            “Uzuri?” a voice called in the night making the lioness stop to listen, which pulled her out of her reverie.

            “Show yourself then we’ll talk.” She growled. Although she enjoyed walking through the tall grasses, it displeased her when others would hide in it. Out of the grasses came a cheetah. It was Kasi the Pride’s scout.

            “What is it Kasi?” the lioness asked sitting down before her friend.

            “Linux needs your help. I found someone half dead this afternoon and Linux stayed to help him.”

            “Is he alright?”

            “He was delirious and called me father but no sign of physical harm.”

            Uzuri nodded then dismissed her scout. She remembered some of her training from Linux, but she didn’t know if she would be any help. Still it was best to grab the herb pouch she kept hidden for such emergencies.

            The lioness made her way through the thick tall grasses to a small kopje where she would usually sun herself. There beside it was an out cove where she kept the pack. It seemed strange that Kasi wouldn’t have found her sooner. Linux would need the herbs. Then it dawned on her that she forgot to ask where Linux and the creature were. That didn’t matter too much. She followed the trail she made back to where Kasi had met her then followed the scent back to where he had been.

            While Linux had helped her start the Pride, he watched over the animals in a wide area. He was, for the most part, an ambassador to the Pride. He didn’t deal with other Prides or the animals much since he was a human but he did keep in contact with the different tribes that still followed Ujesu. When he wasn’t doing that, he spent his time elsewhere. Uzuri never knew where or what it was other than the fact he would have on a different kind of garb than tribesmen.

            At last, Uzuri happened on the tree that Linux and the creature happened to occupy, illuminated by bright lights from the front of what Uzuri had come to know as a truck. The Queen stopped short at the sight of the newcomer and sat the pouch at his paw.

            “Is he alright?” Uzuri asked her friend as he kneeled over the lion.

            “He is fine, but I asked Kasi to bring you too me a while ago. This lion could have died otherwise.” Linux said in an angered tone. “Did you bring my herb bag?”

            “I did indeed, but I fear you may need to just keep it on you. I know I made Kasi a scout, which I’m regretting, but he’s becoming too undependable.”

            Linux stood up, walked over to his friend, and picked up the bag. “You’re right I should bring it with me. As long as you remember where to get the herbs from just in case you need them.”

            “I remember what you’ve taught me.” Uzuri crept up to her friend and mentor’s side to see the lion. Peace seemed to be on the lion’s features as he lay at the base of the acacia.

            “Will he live?” Uzuri said looking up at Linux. Linux returned the gaze and smiled.

            “He’ll be just fine.” A smile crept across the human’s face as he saw the Queen gaze at the unconscious lion. He knew that look all too well. He knew the Queen’s heart but never said anything about it.

            “I need to go. I’m needed elsewhere. Do you think you could watch over him?”

            Uzuri looked up and nodded. Linux Ran his hand through the Queen’s white fur then turned leaving the two alone.

            There was a terrible rumble as Uzuri looked back at the truck. She had grown accustomed to the fact that Linux made his way through the plains in such a monstrosity. Her first reaction when she saw it was to try to befriend it. To her sheepish realization, Linux told her that it was his work truck.

            Uzuri looked back and realized that the creature had passed out under Inkosi’s usual sleeping spot. It wasn’t odd to be vacant as the other white lioness was also an ambassador to the Prides in the area. The one Pride Uzuri feared was her father’s Pride in the north. She was heir to the Pride but she didn’t want to be. In fact, she didn’t want to be Queen till it was brought on her by the Pride she had brought together. They called it the Thanda Pride. It meant love, love for her members as well as those that encountered them. It was better than the Mwuanji Pride, her father’s Pride.

            The Queen shook her head. She didn’t want to think about her father’s Pride, not when her father saw evil in everyone around him. It was thanks to her father that she felt the true power of darkness, a hate so deep that it would consume her.

            Uzuri sighed and laid next to the lion for a while but was unable to sleep. As much as she wanted to sleep, it would always elude her. She pushed part of his mane away with her paw and smiled.

            “Good evening.” cried a chipper voice. Uzuri shrank back away from the lion looking around for the source of the voice but couldn’t find it. “Up here!”

            Uzuri looked up at the canopy and sighed. “I thought you were away.”

            The lioness leaped down from the tree and stretched, as she got closer to Uzuri.

            “I just got back and found you next to another lion in my sleeping place.”

            “Sorry about that but neither of us could move him.”

            “I’m only joking.” She giggled. “He’s more than welcome here. If you need me to, I could watch over him. I know you have other things to do.”

            “You’re right as usual. Please watch out for him and tell me as soon as he wakes.”

            “Will do,” She said as she hopped up among the low hanging branches to keep watch. Uzuri left the two and padded off into the night to patrol the lands since she couldn’t trust Kasi to do it.

*   *   *

            Malaika woke in the early morning light disoriented and confused as to where he was. What worried him the most was the unfamiliar scents surrounding where he lay. They were new to him and yet somehow familiar. Deciding caution was the best course of action, he made his way down to the nearest waterhole to lap up a drink. His muscles ached, as he moved never realizing he had been asleep for some time. He wasn’t certain if he was alive, dead, or dreaming.

            The lands seemed vacant except for the wandering herds that were most common to any land. The lion bent down to lap at the water just below a small ledge. Just as he was about to imbibe some of the cool fresh water he was pushed into the waterhole. He sputtered when he came back to the surface. Over by the water’s edge was a white lioness trying to stifle her laughter.

            “I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist,” she giggled. Malaika climbed out of the water then tried to shake off the excess. He knew he would have to lay in the sun to dry out the rest of his fur. As soon as he regained himself, he turned holding his temper and spoke to the lioness.

            “Might I ask your name before I push you into the water?”

            “Forgive me,” the lioness said straightening herself. “My name is Princess Inkosi of the Thanda Pride and you are?”

            “Malaika of the Umondi Pride.” he offered before looking away. “I’ve never heard of the Thanda.” The lion turned his gaze back to the lioness.

            “We only formed a few seasons ago, and we’re not part of the council of the eastern Prides. I have played ambassador to some of those Prides on occasion. I’ve never been allowed to a council meeting as it’s a place for Kings only.” Malaika wasn’t very interested and it showed on his face. He tried to stretch out his tight muscles but they only acted in protest.

            “Take it easy now. You’ve been asleep for a while, three suns at least. Uzuri told me how they found you under my tree.”

            “I’m sorry; I didn’t know it was yours.” Malaika said defensively hoping not to offend the lioness. “Who is Uzuri?”

            “She is the Queen of the Thanda Pride, though she tends to act like a cub when it suits her.” Inkosi chuckled.

            “What’s all that noise?” a voice cried from behind a shrub. “How could anyone get any sleep with you yammering away like that?” Out of the bushes strolled a lithe looking cheetah with tawny eyes.

            “Oh, chill out Kasi. It’s about to be high noon. Why would you be sleeping?”

            “For your concern I was up for the last forte night playing watch dog, when I found this vagrant half dead.”

            “Kasi! Watch your tone before I tell your brother. Uzuri already has it out for you since you left this poor creature to nearly die.”

            “Um, I’m still here you know.” Malaika said trying to interject. The cheetah wanted to say something but remained silent while his tail tip swished agitatedly. He knew he was in trouble when he heard his brother’s name.

            “That’s right spotty. I’ll tell your brother and you don’t want that now do you? Linux would ream into you.”

            “Who’s Linux?” Malaika asked hoping to refocus the conversation to something more pleasant.

            “Linux is the Pride’s Prime Chancellor and resident healer. He’s the one that helped you out when you were unconscious. He’s…” Inkosi’s attention switched over to watching Kasi attempting to leave. She placed her paw down on his tail and stopped him from going much further.

            “Will you let go?” He growled.

            “What’s the matter? Don’t like it when others do it to you?” She let his tail go and watched as the cheetah left the two alone.

            “What kind of Pride is this?” Malaika asked trying to refocus her attention again. “I mean a cheetah, a white lioness, is there a leader?”

            Inkosi smiled. “That would be Queen Uzuri. She and Linux came up with the concept of the Pride and went from there.”

            “I see. Would I be able to meet Uzuri?”

            “Sure but I warn you she’s kind of eccentric. As I said she tends to act like a cub.” Inkosi said as she got up to lead the warrior through the Pride’s lands.

*   *   *

            Uzuri meditated in the shade of an acacia tree where she hoped no one would disturb her. She tried to take her focus off the tension that came from leading the Pride. What bothered her was her father, Kifo, tried to force her to take over the Mwuanji Pride. Although Uzuri wasn’t his blood daughter, she would be heir to the Pride but Uzuri wouldn’t give up on her friends, not when Linux and she created the Thanda Pride together.

            The Queen’s ears swiveled as she heard someone approaching from somewhere around her. She sighed and got up to see what they wanted and then ask them to go away for a while. Before she could get too far in the tall grasses she ran right into another lion that wasn’t watching where they were going. Uzuri shook her head trying to clear her it when she focused her eyes on the lion and the lioness next to him.

            “Ah, Princess Inkosi, it’s good to see you. This must be the newcomer.”

            “Habari, your majesty, indeed he is.” Inkosi said with a respectful bow. The other lion, Malaika, looked like he was in shock. In fact, his heart seemed to skip a beat as soon as he saw the Queen’s pure white pelt.

            “Hello?” the Queen asked trying to get his attention. “I asked your name, what’s the matter meerkat got your tongue?”

            “I’m sorry.” Malaika said trying to clear his thoughts. He couldn’t comprehend the beauty that was the Queen of the Thanda. “I’m Malaika.” He finally managed.

            “It’s good to see that you’re awake now.” Uzuri said turning back to the base of the tree. She invited them both in to sit.

            “This is where I come to try and meditate. It’s not easy when everyone keeps interrupting. I might have to look for a new spot.”

            Despite his feelings for the Queen, a new urge filled his thoughts and the lioness could see it.

            “Are you alright?”

            “I fear that humans may come here looking for me.”

            “Why would they hunt you?” Uzuri asked quizzically.

            “I fear that they will come for me due to a darkness I hold. They attacked my Pride and I was sent into exile. My family has a curse, a darkness we can’t control unless our emotions are kept in check. I was taught by my uncle how to suppress these feelings but I’ve still let my emotions get the better of me.”

            Uzuri knew how Malaika felt. She had been through something similar. Kifo trained his warriors to fight for Ujesu. Ujesu would speak to Kifo, though she doubted it, and he would send his warriors of light out to do Ujesu’s bidding. On one excursion Uzuri felt the darkness grab hold of her and soon her anger against her father had surfaced but with zeal. She held it deep inside herself but felt it wise to stay calm or it would destroy all she loved.

            “If you need help in maintaining your emotions I know of someone that could help you.” Uzuri offered. “He’s been there for me and I hope he could be as much of a mentor. However, he won’t be back for at least three suns, three days’ time as he calls it. That is if you want to stay.”

            “I would like that.” Malaika said with a smile.

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