Chapter One: The Stray
“I think it’s stopped,” Manzi said, taking her left paw off her head. Her white toes were wet from the raindrops that had weaved there way through the leaves.
“I hope so,” Shani replied, annoyed. He shook his scruffy gray mane in annoyance at the water droplets. “My knees hurt from standing here for so long, the leaves are dripping on me,” then he paused and looked over his striped shoulder at the crimson lion cub on his back. “and you’re giving me a backache.”
Manzi swatted Shani’s shoulder in mock discipline. “Oh, be quite you bud nipper,” she said. “Let’s get back to the pride before it gets dark, or else they’ll worry.”
“Right.” Shani walked out from under the tree that had served as their umbrella.
“Wait!” Manzi shouted.
Shani, being a zebra, started. Then he asked, “What is it?”
“I see something over there.” Manzi laid down on Shani’s back and stretched her neck out to get a better look. “I think it’s a cub,” she said, squinting. “Let’s go check it out!”
Shani grumbled. “What if it starts raining again?”
“Okay! Okay! But don’t take too long.”
“Deal.” Manzi jumped down from Shani’s back.
Shani’s green eyes watched Manzi nervously as she carefully approached the brown slump on the wet ground. Her paws padded silently as she reached it. Manzi swallowed. She took in a big breath and then tapped the sleeping cub on the shoulder.
The cub woke with a start. He sat up and stared into Manzi’s deep blue eyes. “Who—who are you?” he stammered.
Manzi immediately felt compassion for the wet, mud colored cub. A thick, dark brown tuft of mane covered his right eye. His left eye had tearstains below it. His eyes were haunted, frightened, and so gray that they were almost colorless.
“I’m Manzi,” Manzi said with a smile. She brushed some of the cub’s wet mane out of his face. “What’s your name?”
The cub looked uncertain, but finally he spoke. “Garoe.”
“Shani, we can’t leave him here!” Manzi insisted after convincing Garoe to come back with her.
Shani’s brown nostrils flared. “I don’t like the look of him. He was obviously abandoned. Probably for a good reason.”
“Don’t say that!”
“Well, look at him, Manzi. He’s wearing a weird string of some kind around his neck with a weird round, silver-ish thing hanging from it. His hair’s in his face and he’s skinny enough to put a meerkat to shame.”
Manzi glared at the zebra. “That’s all the more reason to take him back to the pride with us. Out here, he’s hyena chow.”
Shani looked at Garoe. Then back at Manzi’s pleading blue eyes. Her brown muzzle bore an irresistible smile. Finally, Shani sighed in defeat. “Okay, okay, but it’s not for him, it’s for you.”
Manzi took advantage of Shani’s lowered head and licked him on his velvet muzzle. “Thanks a ton!” she said before she bounded over to Garoe, beaming. “Come on!”
The first stars came out before Manzi finally convinced Shani to let Garoe ride with her on his back. It didn’t take long to coax Garoe to climb on, but Manzi could tell he was nervous.
After Shani stood from lying down to let the cubs on, he started walking home. After a few minutes, Shani sensed they were getting closer and started trotting.
Garoe started to slip.
Manzi turned I time to see Garoe barely holding on by his forepaws, clinging to Shani’s rump.
“Help, Manzi!” Shani and Garoe cried at the same time as Garoe’s little claws dug into Shani’s hide.
Manzi pulled Garoe to safety just in time as Shani stopped. The young zebra glanced back at his rump. He squinted his eyes as if he was expecting something horrifying. “Oh, that’s attractive,” he groaned sarcastically at seeing the scratches. He glared at Garoe. “You’re walking.”
Manzi leaned over and gave Shani a look.
“I mean we’re walking,” he corrected himself. “the rest of the way.”
“Hold on,” Manzi said, checking Garoe.
“No claws, please,” Shani added.