Chapter Nine: Jabari
Hunger gnawed at Peter’s stomach. The gray cub laid in the shade of a tree. Leia and Fina had tried everything, but there wasn’t any way he could join them on their vegetarian diet. And because Leia was weaned, Fina didn’t have any milk to settle Peter’s hunger.
Peter sighed. His bright turquoise eyes focused on a blade of grass. He wondered if it was possible to choke it down… at least for today.
Peter leapt to his feet. The voice certainly didn’t belong to one of the zebras, but it sounded familiar. “Hello?” Peter asked.
“Over here. Behind the tree.”
Peter cautiously walked around the rough trunk, his fur rubbing against it. He paused when he saw a strong, tawny feline.
“Remember me?” the stranger asked. He was half the size of an adult lion but bigger than a cheetah. A dark brown mane ran down the back of his neck and flopped between his ears, nearly covering his dark blue eyes.
Peter also noticed a blue piece of cloth wrapped around the stranger’s head, barely visible under his mane, it seemed to hold his pointy ears erect.
The stranger’s white muzzle broke into a smile as Peter worked up the courage to come closer. “I think I remember,” Peter said, smiling back. “You rescued me, right?”
“Pfft, you mean from that cheetah? That’s me. Name’s Jabari.” Jabari flicked his strong, white tipped tail. He seemed to have lion’s blood, but Peter couldn’t tell what made up the rest of him.
“Well, thanks,” Peter said. “Why’d you do it?”
Jabari grinned smugly. “Because I like you, cub. Qymaen and Saka Sefu are only the biggest thorns in the savanna. I’ve been trailing them for months, and so far, you’re the only one of their victims who’s been brave enough to stand up to ‘em. I respect you for that.”
“Why are you trailing them?”
“Qymaen killed my father.”
Peter gasped. He remembered his feelings when he saw his mother’s lifeless body, after Qymaen finished her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know how you feel.”
Jabari lowered his eyes. “I hate Qymaen for what he did, but I don’t want to kill him. I just want to make life miserable for him, stop what he’s doing.” Jabari paused and looked around. “Seeing as how he hasn’t tracked you down yet, I’d say I’ve done a good job in discouraging him.”
Peter chuckled. “I saw how hard you hit him. I think he’d be crazy to challenge you.”
Jabari looked at his shoulder. There was a long scar there that Peter didn’t notice before.
“Crazy? No,” Jabari said. “Good? Yes.”
“Oh, um, Jabari?”
“While we’re on the subject, what is Saka, exactly? He reminded me of a monitor lizard. But his eyes look like a crocodile’s.”
“Let’s walk.” Jabari walked away while Peter followed. Peter noticed that Jabari had a slight limp in his back left leg. “I’ll give you some lessons along the way.”
Peter looked back to where Leia and Fina were grazing. “I can’t be gone too long,” he said.
“All right.” Jabari nodded. “Now, about your question: I’m not positive myself, but I’ve heard that he’s from some race of bipedal reptile, that’s the two legged ones, known as the ‘beast-foots.’ I hear he’s an Afrovenator/Deinonychus hybrid, whatever that means. I never saw the likes of his kind before or since.”
Peter was about to speak when his stomach interrupted him.
Jabari stopped. “Hungry, huh?”
Peter nodded, his scruffy gray fur moving with him.
Jabari chuckled. “That’s one disadvantage to living with zebras. You’ll need to feed yourself, but it will be the last place Qymaen will look for you.”
Peter beamed, assuming that was good news. “Can you teach me how to hunt?”
Jabari blew some stray mane away from his eyes. “I thought you’d never ask.”
As it neared sunset, Peter’s belly was full. Jabari taught him how to find mice and hare, and how to catch them. Peter learned quickly, and before they parted ways, Jabari praised him for it.
“See you tomorrow!” Peter called before he ran to his zebra family.
“If fate allows it,” Jabari replied. He left without another word.
A thought occurred to Peter as he ran to Fina and Leia. I forgot to ask him why Qymaen was chasing me.
“Hey you!” Leia greeted in her young voice, prancing toward him. “Wanna play before Mom calls us?”
Peter smiled, forgetting his troubles. “Absolutely!”
* * *
“Wasn’t that fun?” Chee asked Kenobi. All the cubs, except Nala, were completely soaked from playing in the water. They were tired, too.
Kenobi nodded, his wet, black mane plastered to his forehead.
“It was a great thing to wake up to,” Manzi said. She’d woken up after the cubs got started with a splash fight.
“Yikes! We gotta go!” Chee jumped to her feet and shook the water off her ears and creamy-yellow coat.
“Us too, Chee,” Nala said, stretching her from legs and yawning.
“My dad’ll worry if I say out much longer,” Simba said. “He doesn’t like me staying out after sunset.
“Bye, everyone!” Nala called as she and Simba ran back to the distant Priderock.
“Catch ya later!” Likku said as she ran in the opposite direction.
Chee and Maverick shared an awkward hug. Maverick’s white mane was wet and covered his eyes. Chee brushed it out of the way. “See you, tonight…,” she whispered, though Kenobi heard her.
Maverick kissed Chee’s spotted cheek before he trotted away. Chee watched him go.
“Hey, Chee, wake up!” Kenobi teased. “We all know you think he’s cute.”
“He’s not cute!” Chee snapped. “He’s adorable!”
Kenobi smiled and rolled his eyes. He saw that Manzi was already on Shani’s back. He swaggered over. “Hey, can I have a lift?”
Shani shrugged. “Sure, what the heck?”
As they headed for home, Chee spoke up. “I’ve got a play date with the Cheetah Gang tomorrow.”
“Cool!” Manzi said. “Can me and Shani come along?”
“No prob,” Chee said. “You won’t have to come with me, though; they’re coming to us.”