The King That Never Was
"Tag! You're it!" Sarabi purred energetically, jabbing my side with her paw before darting in the other direction. I wrinkled my nose but didn't move.
"Really, Sarabi? Won't you ever grow up?"
She rolled her eyes, padding back to my side before slumping down in the grass once again and sighing. "And what's your problem, Taka? Too grown up to play games anymore?"
"Y'know," I challenged, raising an eyebrow at the she-cub, "princes aren't supposed to behave like children."
Sarabi chuckled. "Prince Taka my tail! You've got about as much princely charm as a warthog." And with that she sat up, mimicking my posture and jutting her chin out arrogantly. "Look at me!" she mocked, making a poor attempt at imitating my voice. "I'm Prince Taka, second son of Ahadi and Uru, and future ruler of Pride Rock! I don't have to listen to anybody or play silly games with my best friend, because I'm a prince and I get whatever I want!"
I smiled crookedly, twitching my tail in amusement. Sarabi was quite the joker. "If you're going to imitate me at all, at least look like you're really trying," I said. "Mufasa even does a better job than that."
Sarabi stopped suddenly, as if she had just remembered something important. "Speaking of, where is your brother? I haven't seen him all morning," she asked.
I shrugged nonchalantly. "Why should I care what happens to him?"
"Because he's your brother," Sarabi pointed out, suddenly a lot more serious. "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
No, I thought bitterly, but before I could answer I caught sight of Mufasa bounding down from Pride Rock to where the two of us stood. I think I groaned slightly to myself.
"Mufasa!" Sarabi gasped excitedly, bounding forward to greet us. For a moment it looked like they were going to crash right into each other, but she stopped just in time for him to rub his face against hers affectionately. It's hard for me to explain exactly why, but I almost had to force myself to look away.
"Hello, Mufasa," I said sourly, slowly joining them. "What've you been up to?"
Mufasa puffed out his chest proudly. "Dad just finished telling me all about our kingdom," he boasted. "And get this: he told me that one day, I'm gonna be king!"
I felt my stomach churn. King? But why had our father told him that when I wasn't around? And more importantly, why him at not me? Mufasa was hardly any older than I was. Why would Dad pick Mufasa? Did he like him better than me? Was I not good enough for him? Unfortunately, Sarabi seemed a bit less upset than I was.
"King?" she echoed, her eyes widening. "How exciting! So, some day this is all going to be yours? Pride Rock and everything?"
"Uh-huh! Dad said everything the sun touches will be my kingdom." Mufasa was really laying it on thick now. I could feel myself getting angrier by the minute.
"Well isn't that just grand," I spat, my voice coming out nastier than I had intended. But it was too late to take it back now. I padded past the other two lions and went on sarcastically. "My own brother, king of Pride Rock; thrilling, isn't it? Long live King Mufasa! Or perhaps you'd prefer Your Majesty? And should I do a courtesy with that? You really must tell me these sorts of things, I confess I'm quite inexperienced in that area. After all, it's not every day that your own brother becomes heir to the throne."
Mufasa's reaction to this practically made me jump in surprise. He had spun around and cut me off on my way back to Pride Rock, obviously less than pleased that I had just insulted him and his newest accomplishment.
"If you have something to say, spit it out!" he growled, now narrowing his eyes. The sight of him like this tempted me to back away, but even though Mufasa had always had size as an upper hand between the two of us, I was too upset to give up now.
"If you're so set on being king, then why don't you make me?" I replied, my voice hollow. "Otherwise, get out of my way."
"Taka…" Sarabi whispered, her eyes wide with worry. She knew Mufasa and I didn't always get along but hated the idea of us fighting nonetheless.
Normally Mufasa had a fairly calm demeanor. While he had his moments where he'd go showing off or trying to impress someone, which usually led to a bit of bickering between us, I never would have expected him to physically lift a paw against me. But that's exactly what he did, lunging forward and hissing all the while.
As I said before, if you were to compare both of our strengths I was quite lacking in that category, and so it wasn't so difficult for Mufasa to knock me onto my back with a single pounce. Instead I knew I had to use wit to come out ahead. Squeezing my way out from under him, I swatted a paw at the dirt, sending it directly into his eyes. Sarabi was yelling at us to stop it all the while, but I ignored her and bit into Mufasa's shoulder as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
I froze where I was, my teeth still sunk into my brother's fur, and pressed my ears back. After a moment of silence Mufasa shook me off and began washing the dirt away from his eyes as I cowered down in front of our father Ahadi, a disappointed look across his stern face. I tried to smile, hoping to calm him down a little.
"Dad, what are you-"
"I'll be the one asking the questions," he clarified, his voice making we want to sink a little lower into the ground in shame. "Did you attack your brother, Taka?"
"It's not like that, Dad, he started-"
"Don't give me that, Taka! I asked you a question and I expect an answer."
"Well, yes, but-"
"Then apologize to him," the king demanded. I turned my head towards Mufasa, who was looking far more victorious than I'd have wished. Why did everyone have to like him better than me? It was hardly fair! I opened my mouth to protest, but our father's voice remained forceful as ever.
"I don't want to hear your petty excuses, Taka. Apologize."
"I'm sorry, Mufasa," I lied, letting my eyes focus on the ground as I finally did what he asked. Our father seemed satisfied with this, but he showed no signs of leaving.
"Mufasa, walk Sarabi back inside. I wish to speak with your brother in private."
Now it was Mufasa's turn to talk back. "Dad, it wasn't all his fault," he tried. "I mean, he totally provoked me without cause, but I really jumped at him first so it's not like…" His voice trailed off as I glared back at him. A little late for that, don't you think?
"Mufasa, walk Sarabi back inside," Ahadi repeated.
Mufasa nodded, beginning to turn around back towards our home with Sarabi in tow. The king waiting until they had both disappeared inside before telling me to follow him a little ways away from Pride Rock. The sun had nearly finished setting, and a streak of orange lined the sky. I kept watching it, waiting for it to disappear altogether in anticipation of the oncoming darkness that night brought. Ahadi didn't say anything, which was almost worse than if he had been yelling at me the whole time.
Finally he stopped and stared up at the sky and all of its stars. I'd heard the whole boring speech about the "great kings of the past" over a hundred times already and prayed that this wasn't going to be another one of those as I sat down a little ways behind him.
"Taka," he began without even looking at me, "is there something that's been troubling you?" I took a deep breath. After all, if I couldn't even tell my own father how I felt, then who else was going to listen?
"It's not fair," I muttered softly. He didn't answer, so finally I spoke up again, making my voice louder so I was sure he could hear me. "It's not fair," I repeated. "About Mufasa, I mean. Why does he get to be king?"
But Ahadi was barely listening. "Is that what this is about?"
"You always said that a great king isn't just about being brave and strong," I argued. "That they also have to be smart, and resourceful, and I'm about twenty times more clever than Mufasa ever was! So why him, and not me?"
"Is it because he's bigger than me? Older than me? Maybe because he has more friends or something? I don't understand. Everyone just assumed that he'd be the next king, and they didn't even take me into consideration. They never even asked. And I'm a prince too! I should have just as much birthright as he does!"
"No, Dad! It isn't fair! No one even gave me a chance. When you made up your mind you didn't even tell me straight out, and I had to hear it from him! How am I ever supposed to be king if no one else gives me the same chance as they did with my brother? Why does everyone have to pick favorites and like Mufasa better than me? Even you, Dad! You say we're both your sons and you love us the same, but whenever something happens it's always my fault! You always take his side and I'm-"
"Taka,ENOUGH!" the adult lion roared, swatting an unsheathed paw against my face.
Suddenly more pain than I had ever felt when play fighting with the other cubs surged into my left eye. I pressed my paw against it, hoping that it would feel better in another minute or so, but it didn't. When I held my paw back again I saw red stains smeared into my dark fur. I looked up at my father in horror, only slightly relieved that I could still see out of both eyes. It was like I hardly knew him anymore.
Ahadi appeared as shocked at what he'd just done as I was, if not more so. His mouth remained slightly ajar for a brief period of time before he tried to say something else, maybe an apology, but I didn't let him get far enough into it to find out.
"No, Dad," I hissed. "I get it."
Then I began bounding back towards Pride Rock, not even bothering to look back over my shoulder, but I could tell that Ahadi wasn't going after me. As I reached the pathway of large stones leading up to the cave, I caught sight of a small puddle of water and peered into it. I saw that half of my face was covered in sticky blood that looked almost black in the dark lighting, and a more than visible cut ran directly across my left eye.
I cocked my head to the side, admiring it for some time. It hurt immensely, but the battle scar that I knew would always be there made me feel important. Like I had taken on much greater odds confidently and managed to pull through. Taka hardly seemed a fitting name for a lion with a marking like that, but Scar… that wasn't half bad at all, now that I thought about it.
I sighed, starting to climb back towards the lion den. I hoped that no one was awake, because quite frankly I didn't want to have to explain anything to anyone, especially Mufasa. But it was Sarabi I ran into.
She was sitting outside of the cave entrance, waiting for me. I walked past without saying anything.
"Taka," she whispered, probably wondering if I had seen her. "Taka!"
"It's Scar now," I answered quietly without stopping.
"I said call me Scar!" I hissed, turning around just enough so I knew she could see my face clearly. Her eyes widened and her mouth slid open, but for some time she couldn't seem to put any words to what she was thinking. And so I didn't wait up for her.
She just stood there looking hurt as I found my spot among the sleeping lionesses, slitting my eyes as soon as I spotted Mufasa curled up in a comfortable-looking ball.
I'll be a king one day too, I thought to myself. Just wait and see…