Chapter Sixteen: Questions For Noah
“Hi, Garoe,” Manzi said, climbing the hill to her favorite tree.
“Hello, Manzi,” Garoe answered.
Manzi sat beside him. “A little bird told me Kenobi’s trying to make friends with you.”
Garoe nodded. “That is true.”
Manzi shrugged her shoulders. “Why the sudden change of heart? Did you do something?”
“No. I have not tried to talk with him. He approached me.”
“What did he say?”
Garoe quickly glanced at the pride. “He asked me to play and I did.”
“That’s a good sign.”
“Maybe.” Garoe brought a paw to his chest and rubbed his amulet.
“I’m gonna go play before Mom goes hunting. Wanna come?”
“I think I will stay here until dinner,” Garoe said.
“Okay,” Manzi said as she ran down the hill.
More than once during their game of hide-and-seek, Manzi tried to pull Noah aside to ask him some questions, but the golden cheetah cub remained elusive. Even after Manzi’s mom Tanari, Dafini, and the other lionesses returned from their successful hunt, Noah was too excited to have a meaningful conversation. Not only that, but his mouth was full.
Manzi chuckled to herself when she realized that Noah ate almost as much food as the chubby Miffy. Only Noah had a much higher metabolism.
When dinner was over, Manzi finally found her chance to talk to Noah as he was laying down in the grass, digesting.
Noah licked the last bits of red meat juices off his lips. “Yeah?”
Manzi, satisfied that she had his attention, sat down. “Can you tell me any more about the Serpent?”
Noah lazily turned his head and looked at Manzi out of the corner of his eye. “You’re still stuck on that?”
Manzi ignored the question. “Well, can you?”
Noah rolled his eyes and groaned. “I just know he’s mean, but not quite as mean as that big lizard thing he travels with. And he usually kills his quarry on sight and delivers the body.”
Manzi suddenly had a thought. “Maybe Murali wants Garoe alive. Qymaen or Saka certainly could’ve killed him when he got cornered.”
Noah shrugged and rolled onto his side. “Maybe.”
“But why?” Manzi asked herself aloud.
“You sure have a lot of questions,” Noah grumbled. “but my guess is that Murali wants to finish Garoe off… himself.”
A chill went down Manzi’s spine. She looked over her shoulder and saw Shani standing against the sunset. “Thanks a ton, Noah,” she said before she went to tell Shani the news.
* * *
“I say he two-timed us,” Saka muttered for the third time in Swahili.
“Shut up, Saka,” Qymaen snapped. His mask rocked on the bridge of his short muzzle as he whipped his head around. “He’ll be back; he has his own ambitions.”
“Are you sure that doesn’t include selling out the best hunters in the Savanna?” Saka hissed, forcing a devilish smile on his long, red-brown jaws.
“Believe me, Hammerhead,” Qymaen said, stalking toward the tall reptile. “I don’t like this anymore than you do, but this could save us a lot of time.”
Saka’s yellow eyes, standing out against his black and white face markings, narrowed. “We’re out of time, Qymaen. Knowing Murali, he sent Katan after us a long time ago. If we don’t do our job, Katan will do his.”
Qymaen groaned. “I know. That’s why I decided this was our best bet.”
“What are you two arguing about, now?” Calypso broke in. The sleek, tawny caracal emerged from behind a curtain of ferns.
Qymaen cleared his throat. “I was just trying to tell Saka that we haven’t been double-crossed.”
Saka mumbled something in Swahili that Qymaen couldn’t translate.
Qymaen rolled his amber eyes but Calypso’s large, tasseled ears swiveled. “I heard that!” she said.
“Whatever.” Saka grunted.
Calypso ignored him and turned back to the masked cheetah. “Who are you waiting for?”
“You’ll find out when he gets here,” Qymaen replied, looking up to a gap in the forest canopy. The stars were just started to appear. “He should be here after dark; probably in less than an hour.”
“If you say so,” Saka said. “I say he two-timed us,” he added in Swahili. Before Qymaen could reply, Saka continued, “If we have an hour, I’m going hunting. I spotted a lone pair of zebras on the ridge this morning. Should be an easy catch.”
“Suit yourself.” Qymaen growled. He settled in the undergrowth as Saka’s long tail disappeared between two trees.