Chapter Seventeen: Two-Timed
Kenobi waited for Manzi to leave Garoe alone on the hill. It took longer than he liked, but finally she left Garoe and went to lay down for the night. Kenobi knew if he didn’t move soon, Garoe would follow her. He took a deep breath before he ambled quickly, but casually toward the mud-colored cub.
Garoe whirled around before Kenobi got to the top. “Oh.” Garoe almost sighed. “It is you.”
Kenobi nodded. He suddenly felt silly for becoming speechless; he didn’t know what to say. He struggled when the words finally came. “Garoe, I … oh, how can I put this? I want you to come with me.”
Kenobi thought he saw the spiral symbol on Garoe’s silver amulet start glowing. He tried to ignore it as he said, “Just for a walk. We can… settle our differences.”
Garoe turned away to look into the valley, where the Savanna Pride slept. Then he slowly looked back to Kenobi.
Kenobi blinked. Garoe’s face was illuminated in sharp shadows by the white-hot glow of his amulet. Kenobi didn’t know what it meant.
“What will Antonio say about that?”
Kenobi forced a smile. “You know, he wants you to go with me. He said we needed to… get to know each other better.”
“No time like the present!” Kenobi nudged Garoe with a paw until he stood.
“Come on! I insist.” Kenobi pushed Garoe along until they walked side by side. Though nervous, Kenobi took his strides with confidence as he made conversation with Garoe; though it was mostly one-sided. He needed something to keep his mind off the eerie glow of Garoe’s amulet. Every time he looked at it, his conscience begged him to stop in his tracks and tell Garoe the truth. But Kenobi was too proud to listen.
* * *
Peter woke with a start. His ears twitched, straining to hear the sound the woke him; all he heard was the chorus of chirping crickets. He looked around as his turquoise eyes adjusted to the darkness. Even though he saw nothing, he snuggled closer to Leia’s side. He knew her mother Fina was asleep, standing beside them. The zebra mare’s gentle breathing soothed him.
Peter was ready to forget the sound when he heard it again. This time, his ears trained on it. He looked in the direction but still saw nothing except the wall of grass. “Jabari?” he whispered his guardian’s name aloud.
The grass rustled.
Peter gasped. Something huge shot from its hiding place, bellowing an unearthly roar. Peter recognized it immediately. “Watch out!” Peter screamed at the top of his lungs.
Leia was on her feet in an instant. “Run!” she yelled.
Peter ran with her and Fina, with the creature right behind them. Fina kicked out with her hind legs, trying to drive him back, but he snapped her fetlock. The mare screamed.
Leia suddenly turned and charged. “Leave Mom alone!” Turning on her forefoot, she bucked. Her small hooves knocked the creature under his jaw.
Fina was free but she limped terribly, unable to run. “Go!” she said to Leia and Peter.
Peter didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to leave her, but he didn’t want to fall victim to Saka Sefu.
Peter turned in time to see a welcome sight. Jabari’s strong, tawny form leap from the sea of grass. He tackled Saka around his neck.
Fina hobbled to Peter and Leia. “Go!” she urged. “Don’t wait for me.”
Peter and Leia waited though Fina and their instincts told them otherwise. They didn’t go faster than a trot for fear that Fina would fall behind. Peter looked back when he heard Jabari’s caterwaul. He was grappling with Saka, digging his claws into the reptile’s thick, scaly hide. Jabari held on, biting into Saka’s only vulnerable spot, his tender neck.
Saka roared and screamed, trying to remove his unwelcome passenger.
Jabari slipped. Saka snatched him around his pelvis and threw him away with a flick of his neck. Jabari landed on his feet and charged, but Saka was ready for him.
Jabari tried to kick Saka in the head; Saka caught Jabari’s leg and smashed him to the ground. Then, he rushed in to finish the stunned cat.
“Stop!” Peter yelled. He leapt between Jabari and Saka’s gaping, ugly, bloodstained jaws.
Saka’s mouth snapped closed in surprise.
“Leave him alone!” Peter said. He was too angry to be scared.
Saka chuckled, a scraping in his throat.
Peter winced, but kept his eyes locked on Saka’s.
“Why should I? He’s been a thorn in my side for too many moons. If I have to go through you, so be it.” Saka started to open his mouth again.
Saka pulled his head back, his neck arching like a coiled spring.
Peter lowered his eyes for a moment as he hesitated. “I know you know who I am. And I know I’m worth more to you alive.”
“What are you driving at?”
Peter sighed heavily. “I’ll go quietly if you leave Jabari and the zebras alone. For good.”
Saka tapped a claw on his teeth, as if analyzing the offer.
“Peter,” Jabari’s strained voice said. “Don’t do it.”
Saka broke in. “You give your word: no tricks?”
Peter nodded. “Yes.”
“Peter…” Jabari growled.
“Done.” Saka snapped his jaws triumphantly. “Come with me.”
Peter only had time to look over his shoulder at Leia and Fina’s pained faces and Jabari’s struggling form.
Saka suddenly turned all the way around, keeping Peter between his feet. “Don’t follow me, Jabari. Or the cub dies.”
Peter saw Jabari nod, his face hard. “Get outta here, Sefu.”
Saka grinned before he turned around and faced Peter forward.
Peter put on his bravest face as he marched under Saka’s parallel body, but a small tear stained his gray fur. His heart nearly cracked when he heard Leia whinny after him.