With What Pride?
In the heart of Africa’s majestic plains roamed the animal kingdom’s most revered pride. Although a small group of lions, they were the smartest and boldest in the savanna.
There were six adults. The lionesses, who were comprised of Shade, Blade, Sour, and Fever, were the most agile of Africa. So fast, in fact, that even cheetahs were envious. And among the females, only two males roamed beside them. The most dominant and therefore the leader was Zeal, but the most praised and adored was his brother Val, whose mane glimmered in sapphire.
Val was a sight to behold. His thick golden hide was as bright as the sun, but its contrast to his distinct blue mane made him a celebrity. He was confident, often strutting with his head held high and his blue locks of hair floating in the wind. Even when his mane was drenched in the blood of prey, he looked magnificent… like rose petals floating on a crystal lake under moonlight. At night, his mane would turn into a blanket of stars, ensnaring the hearts of tourists who constantly drew out their cameras to capture him on film. Even then, his mane sparkled bright enough to cast flare in their shots.
Val was confident, so confident that often times he made decisions that endangered his pride.
Because they were the smartest of any pride, the cubs were taught to outsmart and hide from rivaling prides, giving their hunting mothers the two male lions to help out with gathering food. While the other five lions were content preying on zebras and gazelles, Val often went at it alone, squaring off against the likes of elephants and hippos.
“They’re big which means more food,” Val would tell his pride. “Elephants and hippos are huge but they’re also slow.”
And because they were the most dominant, Val would often times lay around and have the preoccupied mothers return from their hunt to fend off intruding males from other prides.
“The males of other prides are beneath us,” Val would yawn. But every time, he would actually mean beneath him. “We leave the easy work to our women.”
And because Val bore cubs, he thanked his own genetics for their smart mentality – a trait in which Sour should have been attributed to being their mother and all.
“They are my children,” Val would say as he licked his cubs on the top of their heads. “Of course they’re talented. Who else would they get it from?”
Sour would often roll her eyes and look away. If she even had the audacity to speak out, Val would put her back in her place.
One day, the pride journeyed through the savanna, eventually reaching a hilltop that overlooked a grand watering hole where herds of different species decided to take refuge. Among the animals were the gazelles – easy prey. The cubs were hungry, giving the adults a reason to hunt.
“The gazelles are fast, but are easily confused,” said Zeal. “Three of us should rush down this hill and the other three should circle around the watering hole and charge at them from behind.”
And as Zeal discussed their strategy, Val noticed a herd of elephants nearby, closely followed by humans who were taking photographs.
“Imagine how impressed the humans would be if I took on the elephants all by myself,” Val thought. “After all, elephants are stupid. They stand no chance.”
And before Zeal could finish discussing his plans, Val took off in a mad sprint, rushing down the grassy hill while his pride roared in shock.
He brushed past the gazelles and veered around the watering hole to meet the elephants, heralded by sighs of awe from the humans watching nearby.
Snap, snap, snap! The bright light of camera flashes entered Val’s eyes, but he was used to the stardom. He zeroed in on the biggest elephant and leaped into the air.
The elephant, in turn, shook his head from side to side, his mighty ears stretching out in the wind like gigantic wings. And with a mighty screech of his trumpet-like roar, he swooped his head low and threw Val straight into the air.
Snap, snap, snap!
Val landed on his feet and in an instant lunged at the elephant, but not before the elephant hastily sidestepped.
Snap, snap, snap!
Val roared and clawed, knocking the elephant’s legs off balance a bit. As his prey began to stumble, Val leapt once more, only to be dangled upside down by the elephant’s trunk.
Snap, snap, snap!
And now Val was being dragged around while submerged underwater. He swiped at the ground, trying to dig his claws into the dirt underneath him but the elephant’s grip was far too strong. He flailed and suddenly he was back on his feet. He looked up and there the elephant was, towering over him, standing on his hind legs. Val’s eyes narrowed at the blinding sun, which silhouetted the elephant’s front legs, which were poised to crush him.
Suddenly, two golden blurs bounced from both sides of the elephant, knocking it on its side in a huge splash. Sour and Fever appeared and pounced onto the fallen elephant, sinking their teeth underneath its head and on its belly. The elephant screamed, only to be silenced by the cubs who entered the water to begin feasting on the enormous prize.
“What were you thinking?” Zeal roared as he entered the carnage. “You do this every time and you put our family in danger. You, yourself, could have been killed!”
“Don’t underestimate me, older brother,” Val interjected. “I could have taken him. There was no need to get the women involved.”
“Don’t be foolish,” Sour said as she gnawed off a chunk of the elephant’s trunk. “If it weren’t for us, you surely would have been meat for the hyenas.”
“Don’t lecture me like one of the cubs,” Val said. “Do you not see me? I’m one of the most feared in the wilderness. I can survive on my own.”
“And with what means will you survive?” Sour asked. “You are strong, but you lack our speed. If you break from this pride, even I will not join you.”
“If you are willing to work hard, you will survive,” Val said. “And to prove this to you, I will live in Silence.”
Silence was a term the animal kingdom coined for the dense jungles east of the African savannah. Though rich in vegetation, offering more comfort and shelter than the open grasslands, no animal that has ventured into Silence was ever heard from again.
The animals simply weren’t brave enough to enter, not even Val’s pride. The unknown that awaited them was enough to make them turn the other way on numerous occasions when his pride would accidentally chase their prey into the jungles. But after being scolded by both Sour and Zeal, his anger turned into motivation. He wanted to prove them wrong.
“Was nearly being killed by an elephant not enough of a reminder that you are nothing without your pride?” Zeal asked. “You do nothing but showboat when we are the ones who do the real work. Stay with us, brother. You still have much to learn.”
“I put in just as much work as everyone else in this pride,” Val roared. He began to turn his back to them as he started to run off. “You are willing to settle for such small prey while walking around under the hot sun. I am destined for more than to be held back by the likes of you five.”
And with that, Val sprinted off, leaving his pride behind to feast on the dead elephant.
His dead elephant, he thought.
Months have passed since the pride last saw Val. Rumors swirled about his demise. The pride heard it from the birds that flew above them. While many thought him to be dead, the pride never really showed much remorse, except Sour. Sour kept Val in a warm place in her heart, mainly because she was the father of her cubs. Since Sour was the most dominant of the lionesses, she’d get second say of where to lead the pride. Often times, when Zeal ran out of ideas as to where they should stalk prey, she’d lead them to the same watering hole they last saw Val. She clung onto the hope that he would reappear there.
One night, Sour broke free from her pride and ventured toward Silence. The trek was long and dangerous, especially in the dark where she was susceptible to an ambush, but she hoped perhaps to see Val. She wasn’t exactly sure why she was going to Silence to be honest. The odds of Val being alive were slim to none.
She paced back and forth at the mouth of the jungle. If there was one thing that was for sure, it was the fact that she would not step foot into treacherous grounds. Not without the rest of her pack at least.
Suddenly a voice rung out from the bushes, “Sour?”
It was Val.
“You’re… you’re alive!”
Val appeared from the bushes. He was skinnier than usual. His once thick, golden hide was now thin with cuts and bruises running up and down his body. His eyes no longer beamed with confidence. He looked exhausted, weak – as if he hadn’t slept for days.
“Please, Val. Come back to us,” she begged. “You look horrible. I don’t think you can handle being here.”
“No,” Val said. “I told you. Anybody can survive Silence if you work hard enough. I can live another year here if I wanted to.”
“You are being foolish again, Val.” She began to lick his wounds. “You have taken on much more than you can handle.”
The spark reignited in Val’s eyes – the same one Sour saw in Val the day he left them. It was the spark of retribution that Val swore when his own family doubted him.
“I told you, I can handle being here. The animals here fear me and there are hundreds of humans who come just to see me.” He got annoyed of Sour’s licking and began to pace back and forth, away from her. “Did you forget who I am?”
“Of course not,” she replied. Sour was disappointed, but she knew Val was too proud of himself to let up. “I can’t keep begging you to come back. Whatever makes you happy.” She started to make her way back to the group until Val called out to her.
“Why don’t you join me?”
“You’re the strongest female in all the land. Silence is where you belong.”
“I wouldn’t dare leave the pride,” she said. “They need me.”
“But not like I need you,” Val pleaded. It was the first time he looked vulnerable. “I get lonely out here. I made a few monkey friends but they betrayed me. And the animals out here are vicious. It’s hard for me to take one down without getting a few cuts and bruises.”
Sour looked at him with bewilderment as he continued to ramble.
“I don’t sleep at night. The only time I’m truly safe is when it rains. But even so, I have to take refuge somewhere. And humans aren’t as nice as they seem.”
Sour couldn’t help but frown. “It’s like they’re all against me,” Val said. “I don’t know what I did to them.”
“Come back to us,” Sour pleaded once more. “If it’s dangerous out here, why would you want to stay?’
“Because there’s more for me here.”
“You keep telling yourself that but you know you’re just too proud to come back,” she said. Sour was heated. Instead of feeling pity for her companion, she now felt anger for his stubbornness. She now understood that Val was doing nothing more than proving himself. She didn’t understand the mentality. Who did he need to prove himself to?
“Well if you’re not coming back with me, then I guess our conversation here is over.” And with that, Val turned away from Sour and began his trek back into Silence.
And for once, Sour no longer felt bad for Val. He had chosen his path. She had no say and she finally accepted it.
Many years had passed since Sour’s last meeting with Val and the pride had only grown stronger in numbers. The cubs that once hid were now full-grown residents of the pride with their own set of cubs. And of the new fully contributing community of lions and lionesses, Sour’s most favorite of the bunch was Ripple, a lioness with a blue-tipped tail.
Ripple reminded Sour of Val, only because of her tenaciousness. Nonetheless, Ripple was smart, strong, obedient, and above all, respectful. With Sour being the last surviving lioness of the original pride, Ripple would command the lionesses just as her mother did. She would take every chance she would have to care for her mother so that she would gain from her wisdom.
“Your father was arrogant,” Sour mumbled to Ripple. Ripple was caring for her mother and had placed her underneath a shrub to protect her from the hot sun. “He was too proud to come to his senses. Even when death looked him straight in the eyes, he wanted nothing more than to prove to his naysayers that he was invincible… even if it meant putting his own life on the line.”
“How did he die?” Ripple asked.
“We do not know. But a few years ago, as we revisited the watering hole where zebras had gathered, we heard a loud noise.”
“Was it his roar?”
“It was quicker, more abrupt. But soon after, we did hear his roar, and it died out quickly.”
Rippled frowned, but her eyes soon glimmered. It was the same spark Sour had seen in Val. It meant motivation.
“Mother, give me advice. What can I learn that father did not?’
“Simple,” Sour said. “Don’t put yourself in situations you simply can not handle.”