Chapter Thirteen: The Wanderer
Peter playfully pounced at a butterfly. The gray, scruffy cub missed it on purpose, allowing it to flutter away so he could give it another try.
“Hey, Peter, what’cha, doin’?”
Peter heard Leia’s voice behind him. He swatted at the butterfly before he tunred around. “Just huntin’.”
Leia giggled and snorted unintentionally. “How do those butterflies taste?”
Peter grimaced and then laughed. “I don’t eat them. I’m just using them as target practice. My…” Peter trailed off as he remembered. “My mother taught me to do that.” Peter remembered the other day when Jabari helped him put those skills to use. Peter was able to catch his food ever since then, but he also hadn’t seen Jarbari since then.
“You won’t ever, you know, hunt zebras, will you?” Leia asked, interrupting Peter’s thoughts.
Peter smiled up at her. “Of course not. Zebras,” he paused to draw as imaginary X over Leia with his paw. “off limits,” he finished.
Leia sighd in relief. Then, her ears pricked up. She turned her head.
“What’s wrong?” Peter found himself whispering.
“There’s talkin’ over there.”
Peter perked up his own ears. He followed Leia’s gaze and thought he heard Jabari’s voice. “Where’s mom?” Peter asked.
“Mom?” Leia sounded as if she was only half-listening. “Oh, Mom. She’s over on the hill.”
Peter turned and saw Fina grazing on the hill, just to be sure. “Stay here,” he whispered to Leia.
The zebra foal lowered her head.
“I’m gonna check it out.” Peter started to stalk through the tall grass.
“What if there’s trouble?” Leia asked.
“I’ll scream.” Peter slipped into the grass without another word.
As he neared the source of the voices, he stopped. It was Jabari and another, deeper voice. Peter stalked closer. He stopped when he could finally see the two animals in front of him.
He immediately recognized Jabari’s tawny, slim, fit, form. The zebra stallion Jabari was talking to, however, was a stranger.
The stallion looked battle-hardened. His muscular, white body was sparsely decorated in broad, black stripes. His deep blue eyes reminded Peter of an oasis he visited once.
Peter crouched lower as the stallion paced closer to the tall grass. As he lowered his head, a thick, black forelock, streaked with gray, covered his eyes.
“You are protecting him?” the zebra said. His voice was powerful, almost haunting. It made Peter shudder.
“Yes, Zareb. Eveything’s taken care of. Ever since I rescued him from Qymaen, I’ve had no problems.”
Peter nearly gasped. They’re talking about me!
“He hasn’t come looking for him?” Zareb asked.
Peter saw Jabari shake his head. His dark brown mane flopping between his ears. “Not yet. Not that I’m hoping for a visit, but I’m startin’ to wonder what’s keeping him.”
Zareb snorted and started pacing again. “I haven’t seen him since he attacked me four sunsets ago. I was passing through the Savanna Pride’s territory.”
“I guess that’s one way to shake him. The Serpent won’t go near a pride leader. I’m trying to stay near the border of Antonio’s territory, myself.”
Zareb stopped and flicked his tail. “Did you pass word on to Liam?”
“Yeah. About two days ago. After I made sure the cub was safe. Knowing that cheetah, he’s already passed on the information. I should get news in a day or two.”
Zareb raised his head, sniffing the air. His stiff mane and his forlock waved gently in the breeze. “Things aren’t right in the savanna.”
Jabari nodded. “We all fell it.”
Zareb looked down at Jabari. “We need to make it right again.”
“I’m doing my part, Zareb.”
Peter thought he saw the zebra’s expressionless, hard face, momentarily break into a small smile. “Do your part well, Jabari.” Then Zareb bowed; Jabari returned it. “until we meet again.”
“If fate allows it.”
Peter watched the zebra go, until he realized that Jabari was watching him. Peter gasped and ducked back into the tall grass. He ran until he bumped into Leia’s striped foreleg. “Ouch!”
Leia nearly screamed. “Oh, Peter! Are you okay?”
Peter sat down, rubbing his head. “Ooh… I think so.”
Then Leia really screamed. “Look out!”
Peter leapt to his feet and turned around in time to come nose to nose with Jabari.
Peter grinned sheepishly. “Um, hi, Jabari.”
“You know him?” Leia asked in bewilderment.
Peter looked at his zebra sister. “He saved my life and he’s the one who taught me to hunt.”
Before Leia could reply, Jabari spoke.
“Come clean, cub. What did you hear?”
Peter swallowed. “Am I in trouble?” His scruffy, gray ears drooped.
“No. I just don’t want to reapeat myself.”
Peter quickly told Jabari what he’d heard. After he finished he said, “You were going to tell me that all along?”
Jabari nodded. He blew a dark brown bang away from his forehead, revealing his blue headband.
“You mean you know Zareb the Wanderer?” Leia gasped. “Who are you?”
Jabari did a backflip, landing on one front paw. “Name’s Jabari.” He lowered himself gracefully one his other three legs. “And as the cub says, I’m protecting him.”
Leia’sbrown eyes widened. “From what?”
Jabari lookd down at Peter.
Peter didn’t say anything.
When Jabari looked back to Leia, he said, “Don’t worry, he isn’t in any danger now. I’m just sticking around to make sure things stay that way. As for why I’m here, it’s because I have the skills. An old baboon taught me the fine points of fighting.” Jabari gave a brief demonstration of flips and kicks.
“But what are you protected Peter from?” Leia urged.
“I’m the one to worry about that so you don’t have to.”
Peter decided to change the subject. “Hey, Jabari. Leia and I should get back to Mom.”
Jabari looked over them. “Sure.” Then he locked eyes with Leia. Then Peter. “Not a word to her about what I’ve said. Understand?”
Peter nodded as Leia asked. “Why?”
“My mission requires me to be invisible.”
Leia sounded unconvinced as she said, “Okay.”
Peter started toward Fina, who was looking at them from on the hill. “See you Jabari,” he said over his shoulder.
“If fate allows it,” Jabari said as Leia trotted to catch up with Peter.
“What’s he protecting you from, Peter?”
Peter shushed her. Then he whispered, “I’ll tell you tonight, after Mom’s asleep.”