Chapter Fourteen: Safe?
Antonio gave the cheetahs permission to sleep near the pride.
Manzi curled up between Noah and Garoe. She knew Mala and Kamaria were wrapped in a cheetah hug a few yards away. As usual, Manzi had a great time, but unusually, her thoughts weren’t far from Garoe’s problems.
“Hey, Manzi!” Noah whispered. “You asleep?”
“No,” Manzi said. “But everyone else is.”
“I know, I’ll be quiet. I was just wondering if Kenobi was back yet.”
“Back?” Manzi asked, almost forgetting Garoe was asleep, leaning against her. She let him settle again before she said, “Back from where?”
“I dunno. I thought maybe you knew.”
Just then, Manzi saw Kenobi’s mother, Naomi, walking over to Antonio. “Shh,” Manzi said to Noah. She closed her eyes and listened.
“Antonio,” Naomi said. “Have you seen Kenobi?”
Manzi heard Antonio shift his weight. “Actually, I haven’t. Didn’t he play with the cheetah cubs?”
Manzi cracked an eyelid in time to see Naomi shake her head. Even though she couldn’t see the copper lioness’s face, Manzi knew she was worried.
“I asked Liam and Kamaria before they laid down for the night. Both said they hadn’t seen him since they arrived this morning. Even Chee hasn’t seen him.”
“Hmm.” Antonio sounded worried.
Manzi was starting to feel worried herself.
“Wait another hour,” Antonio said, his Spanish accent coming through. “If he isn’t back by then, I’ll arrange a search party.”
“Thank you, Antonio. Thank you! I just hope nothing’s happened to him. He hasn’t been acting himself since you adopted Garoe.”
“He’s just adjusting to the change,” Antonio said. “He’ll come around soon, I’m sure.”
Manzi raised her head when she heard Kenobi’s voice.
“Kenobi!” Naomi nearly shouted. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
Antonio broke in. “Where were you? You had your mother worried sick.”
“I’m sorry. I was just… collecting my thoughts. I went for… a walk and I guess I… lost track of the time.”
“That’s all right,” Naomi said. “but next time, please tell me where you’re going.”
“Especially with Qymaen and Saka around,” Antonio added.
“Puh. They don’t scare me,” Kenobi said.
Manzi lowered her head and closed her eyes as Naomi and Kenobi walked past her. Manzi knew the voice she heard belonged to Kenobi. But responding to a warning from Antonio like that; was it too casual?
As Manzi felt Garoe’s gentle breathing against her side, she decided to let the matter go… for now.
Manzi nearly jumped. “What, Noah?” she whispered, half-annoyed.
“Where do you think Kenobi really was?”
Manzi laid her chin on her paws. “I don’t know, but he sure was gone a long time.”
Manzi heard Noah snort. “’Collecting my thoughts,’ my tail!”
“Shh,” Manzi reminded him.
“Oh, right. Ya know, I’m tired of all these secrets. I mean, Liam is a messenger and all, but he hasn’t been tellin’ me what the messages are about lately.”
“You mean like the one I overheard?” Manzi asked, glancing at him.
“Well, I did hear more than I told you and Kenobi earlier. I just didn’t want Kenobi to get mad at Garoe.”
Noah cocked an eyebrow and stifled a yawn. “What for?”
Manzi told Noah about Ethro, the keeper of the north, and Antonio’s suspicions about Garoe being Ethro’s son.
Noah almost leapt to his feet in excitement. “Of course!” he whispered, but barely. “Murali won’t let Ethro’s son carry on the legacy. After what Ethro did to him? No way!”
“But that means…” Manzi paused to make sure Garoe was still asleep. “As long as Garoe’s here, Qymaen knows where to find him.” She turned back to Noah worriedly. “Right?”
Noah’s face suddenly went blank. His blue eyes widened. As he huddled closer to Manzi he said, “And I thought I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep because I was excited.”
“Sorry,” Manzi whispered quickly. “But if I know Antonio, he’s probably already thought of that. He’ll be on guard.”
Noah laid his head on his paws. “Let’s hope so.”
It seemed almost an eternity to Manzi before Garoe and Noah’s gentle breathing lulled her to sleep.