Kali stretched and yawned; the grass felt soft and comfortable on her back and she gazed absentmindedly at the little fluffy clouds that hung in the sky. Today she was relieved of hunting duties and had earned a well-deserved rest.
The young lioness turned her head lazily and smiled a mischievous grin at her fellow lionesses preparing for the day's hunt.
'You shouldn't lie in the sun, you'll get sick,' Neema said, whilst trying to round up the last of the lionesses.
Kali simply stretched and yawned in response. The heat did not feel as though it was too much for her.
Bua walked over and playfully batted the younger lioness’s head. 'Listen to my mother, she is still your queen on your day off you know.'
'Hey! I just got comfortable. I'll move into the shade later.'
'Just because it is your day off, it does not mean that you should just lie around and do nothing. Why don't you go find Utani and see if you can help her patrol?'
'Aren't you going hunting?'
'Come on Bua we need to go,' Neema said as the lionesses started to head out of the den.
'See you later Bua, I'll enjoy my day off,' Kali said with a grin.
Bua bounded off to catch up with the rest of the lionesses. 'I'll remember this on my next day off!'
'Until then,' Kali said and shut her eyes, soaking in the warmth from the sun.
As the day moved on the temperature only rose, and without any wind to break the stifling heat, Kali soon woke up hot, bothered, and thirsty. She groggily pulled herself up off of the hot earth and made her way through the den.
'Where are you going Kali?' Asked a small cub who was in the process of winning a play fight with a less fortunate cub.
'For a drink.' She responded with a dry rasp.
It had been a while since the last rains and the pool which usually collected in the shade below the den had completely dried out, leaving the river as the nearest water source.
Kali nodded in acknowledgement to an older lioness who had taken a pair of cubs down to the river for a drink. Dry spells could be awkward for the pride as it meant leaving more lionesses behind at the den to take the cubs to water; the river, after all, could be dangerous and while the crocodiles, which at times lined the muddy banks of the river, were unlikely to dare risk the wrath of the pride by taking a cub, one could never be too careful when it came to the younger generations.
While the grass had yet to turn brown, the ground felt baked hard under-paw. It was nowhere near the dry season, though the weather had been unusually hot for the time of year leaving the land parched. The pride, however, was not worried. One thing that a lion in the Sadaka pride could always count on was the rains; it was a source of abundance for the area and allowed for a relatively laid back life for any lions that lived there. The river was low, but the life-giving water still stretched and meandered as far as the eye could see like a serpent.
Cool and refreshing, Kali sighed in relief as she lapped at the water and quenched her thirst. The young lioness wondered whether there were prides out in the vast savannah that had lived their lives far away from any guaranteed water source and she shivered at the thought of the pool at the den drying out and the pride finding that the river had gone.
'Kali is that you?' A familiar voice called from above the riverbank and an ungainly lioness scrambled down the muddy bank.
'I'm so glad someone is here!' she said.
'What's the matter Utani?' Kali said, her muzzle still dripping with water.
Utani struggled to catch her breath. She had never exactly been the fittest of the lionesses, nor was she a talented hunter by any measure, and as a result, her mother - the queen - had reassigned her to full-time scouting duties, which were normally handled by the young males in the pride. Her new duties had not exactly been beneficial to her stamina, however, and lacking the intense training the huntresses of the pride went through, yet still very fond of the hunters share of the food, she had grown somewhat plump.
'There is a rogue male just down the river, I think he saw me. Will you come with me? I did not want to approach him alone.'
'How far down the river?' Rogue lions were never good news. At the best of times they pilfered kills from their territory, the worst could attempt to kill the king for the right of leadership.
'It couldn't have taken me more than a few minutes to run here, and I don't think he followed me,' she said, still panting heavily.
'I'll come with you. We need to go now if we’re going to catch him.'
Kali let the larger lioness set the pace. Kali would not take her sole role in the pride from her, even if their progress was not exactly what the huntress was capable of. Utani's older sister Bua would likely become the lead huntress of the pride once Neema retired from the role, so it was not essential for Utani to be trained as a huntress. With her clumsy hunting skills, it was safer to give her a different role, rather than risk her being injured or even killed on the hunt. Still, Kali wondered as she watched the overweight lioness's excess flesh around her mid-section sway as she padded along if persisting with her training might have ironed out her flaws.
The queen herself had started to gain weight, so perhaps it was hereditary, though the queen was beginning to age while Utani was barely a year older than Kali. Her lack of skills and conditioning had left her in a role that had only a minor impact on her pride's future.
Utani slowed down and stopped as they reached the peak of a small incline, overlooking a large stretch of the river.
'I saw him over there, on the other side of the river,' she said, panting.
The grass was long, and the flat floodplains stretched for miles before finally easing gently into the distant hills. It seemed rather careless of the male to be spotted, it would have been difficult to spot any lion amongst the sea of foliage.
'Can you see him, Kali? He was standing right there looking at me.'
'Something isn't quite right.' There was no bird song in the air, only the gentle rumble of the ever-flowing river.
'What's wrong?' Utani asked nervously.
'Does this not feel familiar to you, almost as if we’re on the wrong side of a hunt?'
'What do you-'
Kali spun around to greet the rogue male as he stalked his way up the slope behind them.
'Ah, well played! I hope I did not startle you,' the male said with a warm smile.
Utani gasped. 'How did you get over the river, your fur isn't even wet!'
She was right, he did not so much as have a drop of water on his dark coat of fur.
'I'm a good swimmer,' he said.
'Enough,' Kali said. 'Why are you here?'
Utani huffed. 'Then why were you trying to sneak up on us?'
'I was not trying to sneak up on you, you ran off so I tried to find where you had gone.'
'Why were you just staring at me?' She said.
The male looked at the ground awkwardly. 'I have not seen any other lions in a while. I was unsure of what to do.'
Kali frowned. 'I know there is only one thing on a male's mind, and I can assure you that you are not getting it from us.'
'Look I don't want any trouble, I am just trying to find my place in the world like anyone else,' he said.
'Well, perhaps you should find your place somewhere else,' Utani said.
He turned and looked into the distance. 'I've found more than a lion's share of food in the area, and I was just exploring further up the river. I did not realise this land was claimed by a pride.'
Kali stared at his mid-section. It was large and bulging, but not in the way that a belly looked when it had recently been fed by a large meal; his torso was thick with fat and almost barrel-shaped, and his belly hung heavy and low, before curving in towards thighs that were without muscle definition, being themselves buried in a layer of fat. The rogue male sported a paunch more befitting of a spoiled prince than a rogue that roamed the savannah in search of his next meal.
He turned to look at Kali. 'Is something wrong?' He asked.
She took a second to realise that her jaw was hanging slightly agape. Quickly she clenched her teeth, this was not a time to forget her duties. 'Yes, there most certainly is. We have a rogue male encroaching on our pride lands.'
'I suppose I'll be on my way then,' he said.
Kali flinched, she had expected him to make a fuss.
The male sighed and slowly trotted back down the hill towards the river.
Kali watched the muscles tense and release in his chunky rear, and the round sides of his belly peak out behind his haunches as it moved gracefully with his gait.
'My name is Sikio, by the way,’ he said.
'Sikio,' Kali repeated quietly to herself.
‘I hope that is the last we see of him,' Utani said.
'Yeah,' she mumbled automatically in response, though she was not quite sure she agreed. On the way back to the den Kali could not get the rogue male off her mind. She would have absentmindedly walked into the path of a wandering water buffalo if Utani had not pushed her out of the way.
'What is with you?'
Utani tutted. 'This is not like you. You're the sharpest huntress I know, except perhaps for Mother.'
Pondering for a moment whilst watching her own paws tread the dry grass, Kali considered how to put what she was feeling into words.
'What did you think of Sikio?' She asked, playing it safe.
'I think that he could become a nuisance if he doesn't stay away.'
'No, no,' Kali said shaking her head. 'I mean... What did you think of him?'
'Oh. Did you like the look of him?'
'Well, maybe. I was just wondering what you thought of him,' Kali said, avoiding eye contact.
'I know you don't get to see many other males in your position other than my father and Shamba, but he had a bit more weight on him than I would like.'
'That is kind of what I meant, I haven't seen a male like him before.'
'You should have met my grandfather, he certainly let the king's portions catch up with him in his later years, and my brother did not do much to break from the cliché of a spoiled prince before he left, perhaps this just runs in the family.' She chuckled, puffed up her face and patted her paunch.
Kali smiled in response. She had only been a cub when Hatari had left the pride. She remembered having a crush on him, though until today, she could never quite recall what exactly it was about him that she had liked.
'I have to admit though, I haven't seen an overweight rogue before,' Utani said.
She did not like the sound of overweight, it sounded too negative. 'He wasn't overweight, he just looked like he was keeping himself well-fed: like he’s a talented hunter.'
She certainly did not think that the male was particularly fat, though he certainly had more meat on him than she was used to seeing on a male.
Utani shrugged. 'I'm not sure. My father says that there is nothing wrong with some extra meat to get you through harder times, but I think you are overweight if it keeps you from your reaching your potential, though I think he was saying it to comfort my mother more than anything.'
Kali nodded in agreement.
The king had never been particularly easy on Utani about her lack of hunting skills or the extra weight she had accumulated, but he always had a soft spot (some jealous lionesses might have said a weakness) for his queen. She had always performed her duties as the lead huntress, proving time and time again with skill and wisdom that she deserved her position above all others. Though she was ageing and in her case that came with weight-gain.
Despite her greying muzzle and a figure that was becoming far less lean than her younger huntresses, she continued her duty with grace and dignity, and if she was physically deteriorating in areas other than her belly, she was hiding it well.
'See you later Kali, and thanks for the help,’ Utani said as they neared the den. The lionesses had not yet returned from the hunt and Utani parted ways to finish her day's scout.
Kali found a spot in the sun and just as she lay down she heard a familiar voice. 'Hey, beautiful.'
'Hey, Shamba,' she said flatly.
Shamba was the king's son and his position as heir to the pride seemed to make him think that this made him more appealing to her, when in fact quite the opposite was true. The responsibility that came with such a position was not to be taken lightly, and Shamba often treated his role with a sometimes worryingly casual attitude.
Originally only second in line to the pride's leadership, he was far younger than his brother and never properly trained for the position he was now expected to take on. He would never have needed to either if his elder brother had not given in to wanderlust and vanished off the face of the world.
The big male stood over her, blocking the sunlight. 'I didn't see you in the den today, I thought it was your day off?'
Kali sighed. 'Utani found a rogue male, so we had to confront him.'
'A rogue male? There are dangerous lions out there, you should have come to me or father for help at once.'
'I am more than capable of looking out for myself Shamba, and besides, there were two of us and only one of him.'
Shamba frowned. 'I just want to look out for you Kali, and my sister. You know I care about you both.'
Kali met his gaze, there was a passion in those eyes. Shamba had been trying his less-than-subtle charms on her as long as she could remember, but she could not bring herself to warm to the young prince. It was more than just his arrogant demeanour or his position that put her off, she simply did not find him attractive in the least.
'I know you care about us. But we all have our roles in the pride, and we need to be able to carry them out without having to ask for help all the time, otherwise what good are we?'
'Kali, if you were my queen one day it would be my duty to protect you.'
The prince was certainly attractive, at least classically, and with sleek form and chiselled features; he had more than a few lionesses falling all over him. He often paid the other lionesses attention too, but none so much as Kali. Perhaps it was her refusal to respond to his advances positively that spurred him on.
'Shamba... You know I don't feel that way about you,' she said awkwardly.
He carried on undeterred as if she hadn't rejected his advance a dozen times already. 'You would make an amazing queen, you are a master huntress and you care about every lion in the pride unconditionally.'
'I don't want to be your queen, sorry.'
The prince flinched like he had been bitten by something nasty. 'If it is the way I go about my role, I can change that; I'm getting better, I can be more mature.'
'Kali,' he sighed. 'I understand that you might not be interested in me... physically, but perhaps you could just look past that and think of the family we could have?'
Kali paused for a moment, she had been disarmed by his unexpected perception. Shamba was generally quite proud of his appearance. Most lionesses adored him and he knew it. She was surprised it would even occur to him that any lioness might not find him attractive. 'I know that you care for me, but it would always be a one-way relationship, and I can't live my life like that.'
Without a word, he lowered his head in self-pity and quietly trudged off.
With a mixture of guilt and relief, Kali sighed heavily and let her head flop sideways to the ground. The last of the day's warmed her.
She had never quite been able to decide what it was that put her off the prince when so many other lionesses gave him notice, but with the chance meeting with the rogue Sikio, she might just have found the answer.
Kali’s paws slid over the dirt as she tried to gain as much traction as the dusty surface would give her. She was sprinting, adrenaline pumping through her body as she closed in with the rest of the huntresses on the gazelle that would be their meal for the next few days.
As the lionesses surrounded the beast on both flanks, Neema pulled ahead of her huntresses to go in for the kill. Despite the extra flesh that quivered on her sides as she ran alongside the gazelle, she kept pace effortlessly, and with a manoeuvre that favoured her excess bulk she pounced and tackled it to the ground.
It took a few hours to drag the carcass back to the den, but it was always worth it to keep their spoils safely within the confines of the den, to deter any potential scavengers. It was traditional for the lions of the Sadaka pride to eat around the pool at the base of their den. Shaded from the intense sun, and with a supply of water during the rainy seasons that saved a parched lion from walking far from their meal, it was the perfect place to dine. Presently the pool at the base of their den was nothing more than a dried-up depression in the earth, but they left the carcass there as a habit.
Kali tucked into her meal with enthusiasm. She hadn’t eaten in a few days and was quick to take her fill. With a full belly, she made her way to her favourite spot in the sun and lay on her back, basking in the mild evening warmth.
As she drowsed someone whispered in her ear, ‘hey, wake up.’
She woke up groggily. It was starting to get dark and a few stars were beginning to twinkle in the sky above her.
Suddenly she became aware of the lion standing over her and looked around quickly to see if anyone else was around. ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here, if someone sees you they’ll drive you away!’
‘Are you going to drive me away?’
‘Not if you don’t cause any trouble I won’t, though I can’t make that promise for anyone else.’
Sikio looked around. ‘I don’t see anyone here but you and me.’
‘Don’t you get any ideas,’ she warned.
‘I won’t cause trouble, I promise. I came here to see your friend.’
‘Utani?’ Kali huffed, for a moment she thought that he had come to see her.
‘Yes. Could you point me in the right direction?’
‘She should be back from her scout soon.’ Kali tried to swallow her words, why was she telling a stranger where her friend was? He could try to attack her or worse.
‘Thanks. I did not catch your name?’
She shouldn’t have given away information about her pride to a stranger, but she found herself too fascinated by him to think straight. A lion should be strong and lean - at least that was the traditional notion - but here was Sikio; plush and overfed, and she found him far more alluring than the likes of Shamba. Despite this softness, he was dark and handsome, with deep brown fur that almost looked black in the dim light. He was certainly easy on the eyes, but it was not his natural features that she was finding herself attracted to.
She realised that she was staring, but he didn’t seem to notice. ‘Nice to meet you, Kali.’
‘Nice to meet you too, Sikio.’
He gave one last smile, his sapphire blue eyes twinkling against the light of the setting sun, and slipped away from the den.
Footsteps padded up behind Kali. ‘Who were you talking to?’
She nearly jumped out of her fur, a large and powerfully built lion was overlooking her with a stern expression. ‘No one, sire.’
‘It’s not like you to let someone sneak up on you like that.’
‘No, it isn’t at all,’ she said.
Utani had settled herself down for the night, but Kali couldn’t wait until morning. She poked at her friend’s fleshy flank.
She rolled over sleepily. ‘What is it?’
‘Did he find you?’
‘What do you mean, who?’
‘Sikio, did he find you?’
‘Who is Sikio?’
Kali leant in closely so no one else would hear. ‘You know, Sikio, from the river.’
‘Oh!-’ Kali made shushing motions and Utani spoke more softly. ‘I haven’t seen him since the other day.’
‘But he said he wanted to see you, where were you today?’
‘I was out in the savanna with mother, she wanted to teach some hunting things again. I’ve told her that it’s pointless, but she still…’
‘I told him you would be back after your scout, he must have missed you-’
‘You told a rogue male where I was?’
‘I know, but he doesn’t exactly seem like the dangerous type, does he?’
‘You never know with rogues!’
‘I’m sorry,’ Kali said with sincerity, she hadn’t meant to just give away her friend’s movements, it had just slipped out without a thought.
‘It’s okay, besides I can handle myself. Do you know what he wanted?’
‘I think he has a crush on you.’
Utani scrunched up her face. ‘If you see him again, tell him I’m not remotely interested.’
‘He is kind of handsome though.’
‘He’s not my type.’
‘I could kind of see the two of you together, though.’
‘Because I’m fat?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘You were thinking it though,’ she said with a frown.
‘You always said that it didn’t bother you, why is it bothering you now?’
‘I have accepted who I am Kali, but that doesn’t mean that I have to find a male who happens to be fat attractive.’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Why does he want to bother me anyway? You are a far better catch.’
Kali felt vain for thinking it, but she had been feeling jealous that Sikio had only shown an interest in her friend all day. She was used to Shamba and the wandering males who came and went obsessing over her, but the one time she wanted to return some affection, she was ignored, and it did not seem fair.
‘Obviously, you are the better catch this time.’
‘Oh, don’t worry he’s all yours.’
‘Maybe he can settle for second best.’
‘You like him!’
‘perhaps I do, he’s interesting.’
‘I’d say he’s no more interesting than any other male that wanders out of the lands beyond. The only difference is that he likes me instead of you this time!’ She stuck her tongue out at Kali.
Kali pulled a face back at her and settled down next to her friend, ready for sleep. Her last thoughts as she slipped off to sleep were of Sikio.
It was another scorching day on the savanna. With no sign of the rain on the horizon and a thirst that could drain a watering hole, Kali begrudgingly made her way down the hillside from the den and drank her fill from the river. Kali lifted her head from the water, her maw dripping with the life-giving waters of the Kundi. A few other lionesses had awoken with the same thirst as Kali and were drinking further down the waning river. It was the lowest it had been in years. The water had retreated far from the river bank, leaving behind a stretch of hard-baked earth and pebbles which turned to mud near the water.
Life clung the river like a moss to a rock, decaying slowly as it edged outwards into the great expanse beyond. Beyond the territory was an endless stretch of arid lands and sand dunes to the south, and salt pans to the north where nothing survived. When the rains did come, they would follow the course of the shallow valley as they always did, avoiding the deserts beyond as if they feared the same fate that awaited life there.
Kali sighed contentedly and headed up the riverbank, tan coat covered in flecks of mud. Sighing again – this time at the state of her fur – she made her way back to the den. The dirt under her paws was beginning to feel alien to her; it was baked solid under the sun, and she worried that before long even the hardy savanna grass would wilt away to nothing.
Utani was talking to another lion in the distance. Kali stopped on the spot when she realised that it was Sikio and waited for a while. She did not want to interrupt them, even if it was inevitable that Utani would reject him. After a time Sikio left. He didn’t saunter away as Shamba so often did after rejection, he held his head low and wandered into the horizon with an obvious disappointment about him.
‘What did you say to him?’ Kali asked as she caught up with her friend.
‘Nothing he wanted to hear. Were you spying on us?’
‘I just came from the river.’
‘I can tell.’
Kali looked at her legs and laughed, they were matted with mud and clay from the river. Her friend had not faired any better, her low-hanging belly had made things worse for her; the normally light fur of her underbelly was dark with mud where it had trailed in the mud – Kali’s trim middle meant that she had at least avoided the same fate. ‘It’s horrible. I’m sick of trailing through it all just to get a drink. I can’t wait for the rains to return.’
‘It shouldn’t be long now.’
‘I told the rogue that I wasn’t interested, by the way.’
This was not surprising, given what Utani had said the previous night. ‘How did he take it?’
‘He wasn’t pushy, which was refreshing. He was quite downhearted, but I told him that someone else might be interested.’
‘You really like him, don’t you?’
‘I’m not sure. I think I want to meet him again.’
‘So go get him.’
‘I told him to wait for you near the den, go see him. Nobody will bother you. I told Father that there was a rogue male around: I also told him that he was harmless. He seems okay with him hanging around, for now, so long as he does not cause trouble.’
‘Thank you Utani!’ Kali licked her friend on the cheek and ran back to the den with cub-like enthusiasm.
She stopped within spitting distance of the den and scanned the horizon for the male, but found no sign of him.
Kali nearly jumped out of her fur when Sikio appeared behind her, as if from thin air. ‘You did it again, how do you do that?’
‘It’s a gift. It’s handy for hunting, at least.’
‘A good swimmer, a good hunter, what else are you good at?’
‘Eating,’ he said.
‘A talented eater won’t stay good at hunting for long.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’
‘A good hunter needs to be fast, and no offence, but you look slow to me.’
‘I bet I’m as fast as you.’
Teasing him was fun, but there was some truth in what she had said. The best hunters were almost always sleek and wiry. Utani’s mother led the hunt and made the tactics; she was experienced, but more and more often she left the labour to the likes of Bua and Duru, who were far more agile than the ageing lioness.
‘I bet you’re not.’
The heavy male bounced lightly on his paws, ready to run. ‘There’s only one way to find out, I’ll race you!’
Sikio sprang from where he was standing and went full-pelt into the savanna. Kali quickly followed. He was faster than he looked. Beneath the layer of fat that coated his haunches lay some powerful and well-trained muscles. His initial head start had given him some distance, but despite his surprising speed, Kali slowly closed the gap. She was by no means the fastest lioness in her pride – that title went to Duru and Utani’s older sister Bua respectively – but the chubby male was no match for a trim and seasoned huntress like herself.
She gradually closed the gap until she was close enough to see the fat quivering on his haunches as he ran, and threw every ounce of strength she had into a pounce that saw them tumbling to the ground together. Sikio lay beside Kali panting, his belly rising and falling as he gasped for air.
‘I suppose you are a bit faster,’ he said between gulps of air, ‘but I’m quieter.’
She couldn’t argue with that.
Kali looked into his eyes, they were unnaturally blue, the deepest blue she had ever seen. ‘Your eyes are beautiful!’
‘Thanks, I guess you could say that I earned them.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘I’ve spent so much time out in the great expanse of the world, I guess I must have spent too much time looking up at the sky.’
‘Where do you come from?’
‘From a land in the south, beyond the desert.’
‘There’s nothing but endless desert in the south.’
Sikio winked. ‘If you walk in any direction for long enough, eventually you’ll find something.’
The south was a hostile and cruel place to live, and beyond it lay a massive desert with rolling dunes that never ended. Everything that went into those dunes either came back quickly or not at all. ‘My pride has lived in these lands for generations and nothing has ever come out of that desert but sand.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
His expression did not change, he did not seem the slightest bit surprised at her scepticism. ‘There are ways of surviving in the desert if you know how.’
‘We have sent scouts into that desert before and they have never found anything. That place is a death trap with no food or water, and it goes on and on forever.’
‘The desert is big, bigger than your entire kingdom, but like all things, it does end.’
‘Our king is strong, he has fought off countless rivals, explored and uncovered lands far to the east and in his youth. He ventured into that desert in his prime, looking to continue his success, and like those before him, he found nothing. Do you expect me to believe that a wandering rogue had more success than my king?’
‘Did your king meet other prides on his journeys?’
Kali stopped to think of some of the stories Ukuta told her and her friends when they were cubs. He had indeed met many prides in his travels, alongside weird and wonderful lands, and species that she could barely imagine. ‘He met many.’
‘Don’t you think that they considered him to be nothing but a wandering rogue when he met them?’
She had never thought of her sire in that way before, it was hard to picture him as anything other than royalty, but he wasn’t always a king. ‘I suppose he would have been a stranger to them.’
‘There are ways of surviving just about anywhere, even in the desert. Perhaps I could show you sometime.’
The thought of wandering around under the baking sun for days on end without water made her shudder. ‘I’m not so sure about that. I get enough dry weather here, thank you very much.’
‘I’m afraid this dry weather is going to get much worse. I can see a drought coming, times are going to get hard.’
‘The rains will come, they always do.’
‘Not this time.’
‘You don’t come from here so you can’t know. The rains have not failed us in generations.’
‘I do not come from here and that is how I know.’
The rogue gave off an air of confidence, not the kind of arrogance that Shamba flaunted. It was a gentler confidence that seemed free of insecurities, and it made him sound convincing, which worried Kali. Could the rains fail? But no, they wouldn’t. They couldn’t, so she put it out of her mind. Part of her could believe his claims about lands beyond the desert, but even this she found hard to believe.
‘Even if you weren’t mistaken, there is nothing that we can do about a drought.’
‘No, I suppose there is not.’
‘So why worry? We may as well enjoy our lives while there is something to enjoy.’
‘I like your philosophy, it is refreshing,’ Sikio said.
She wanted to find out more about Sikio, but she was certainly not going to have him sneaking around and causing alarm. If she was ever going to explore her attraction to him, she would do it openly, as a member of her pride.
‘I think you should meet my pride. That is, if you’re planning to stick around.’
‘I’ve met some of you already.’
‘You know what I mean. No more sneaking around.’
‘Okay then, I’d love to meet your pride.’
‘So you’re staying for a while?’ Kali said.’
‘Would you like me to?’
‘I’d like to hear more about these fantasy lands of yours, so yes. You should meet our king. He’s fair and kind, but don’t get on his bad side.’
Ukuta eyed Sikio up and down with a gaze that made Kali shrink back nervously, but Sikio stood firm and dignified against the stares of the king and the lions that stood around him.
‘You say you came from, where exactly?’
‘I came from beyond the great desert to the south.’
‘Bah!’ Ukuta baulked. ‘Are you mocking me?’
Kali wanted to speak up, but Queen Neema shook her head at her. It would be up to the king to give his the initial blessing and only after his decision would he allow the rest of his pride a say on whether Sikio could stay.
‘Sire, I would do no such thing. It is an inhospitable place, but I was trained to cross the desert safely.’
Ukuta began to circle him. Kali felt sorry for Sikio; the king could be intimidating, but this was his job after all. ‘We have always considered the desert to be the end of the known world. The very best of us have been defeated by it time and time again, and yet it is you who should find a way across it?’
‘There are ways to survive out in the dunes, sire.’
‘And yet, I find it hard to believe that someone as soft as you would be the one cross that desert when all others have failed.’
Shamba snorted with laughter and quickly went quiet when the king glared.
‘Have you got something to say Shamba?’ Ukuta said.
The prince took a step forward. ‘I think father, that you are too kind with your words.’
‘And what would you have said?’
‘I would say that this fat excuse for a lion could not make his way across the savanna without dying from exhaustion, let alone attempt to cross the same desert that took N’yota.’
Sikio’s ears twitched briefly when he the name of the King’s missing son, Kali noticed.
‘Your voice has been heard, Shamba.’
Shamba stepped back in line with the lionesses with a smug look on his face.
‘Sikio, you have spoken to both my daughter and Kali, but your intentions are unclear. Why are you here, what do you want?’
Sikio shifted his weight slightly, he hesitated before committing to his answer. ‘I intended to pass through this area and head north-west, but then I found Kali and Utani.’
The king narrowed his eyes, and Sikio continued. ‘I found myself drawn to Utani and wanted to meet her.’
Murmurs from the lionesses echoed off of the rocks that surrounded the den, and died down quickly when the king said, ‘go on.’
‘I spoke with your daughter, Sire, and she rejected me. I had intentions of moving on once more, but I have since become interested in another.’ He then turned around and smiled at Kali long enough to make the murmurs start up again.
Shamba laughed. ‘Kali isn’t interested in the likes of you! Father, you should exile this pest.’
Ukuta turned his gaze to the lioness. ‘Kali, you are a cherished member of this pride, an excellent huntress and a dear friend to my daughter. If you want this rogue to be sent away, you need only say the word.’
The whole pride turned to look at Kali, and she suddenly felt hot under her fur. She wondered if this had been a mistake. If she let Sikio stay, it would be like admitting to the entire pride that she had some sort of attraction to him, but if she sent him away she would never see him again.
‘What will it be, Kali?’
‘He can stay, by your kindness of course.’
Shamba looked mortified. ‘Father, it’s obvious that this rogue is threatening Kali somehow, we have to get rid of him.’
‘No Shamba,’ Kali said. ‘This is my decision and no one else’s.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ Shamba said and left the circle of lionesses and disappeared from the den.
The king turned his attention back to Sikio. ‘It is settled then. Do the lionesses agree?’
There was a brief nod of agreement throughout the circle. ‘Very well. Sikio, you may stay with our pride temporarily, or as long as Kali sees fit.’ The king winked at Kali and headed back to his favourite rock.
Neema and Utani came over to Kali. ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ Utani asked.
‘Yes, I’ll be fine. He’s nice.’
‘If he bothers you, let us know and we’ll sort him out,’ Neema said.
Sikio spent some time introducing himself to the lionesses, before making his way back to Kali. ‘That went well. Shame about the prince, though.’
‘You’ll get used to Shamba. He’s a handful but mostly harmless.’
‘What now, then?’
‘It’s getting late, I’ll show you where you can sleep.’
‘Perhaps tomorrow I can show you one of my secrets.’
‘That could be fun, but I won’t be crossing any deserts with you.’
Kali led the male into a shaded nook. Buried within a maze of rocks adjacent to the den. The dusty opening between the sun-baked rocks was her favourite place to get some peace at night.
‘Anywhere here is fine.’
Sikio gave a weary smile. Despite his apparent resilience during the interrogation he had received, he was looking visibly worn out now. He turned to make his way to the opposite side of the opening when Kali said, ‘you know, I wouldn’t mind the company.’
The male’s eyes seemed to twinkle as he accepted the invitation and flopped to the ground with his back to Kali.
She watched him for a while, listening to his breathing slow as he began to doze off. His fur was dark and glossy, and his mane was a deep black, but it was much shorter than Ukuta’s. It reminded Kali of Shamba’s mane towards the end of his adolescence, though Sikio seemed to be an adult, perhaps the same age as Shamba.
Kali always thought of young males as lithe things, with a kind of compact strength that allowed them to be quick on their feet; not necessarily a match for the raw power of males in their prime, but a build that allowed for speed and dexterity. But Sikio’s build did not remind Kali of older males either. He certainly had the extra weight, but it looked different somehow.
Experimenting with her paw, Kali poked at the male’s thigh, quickly at first to make sure that he was asleep, then with more dexterity. Her toes sank easily into the excess of fat and were met with a little resistance from the muscle and bone beneath. Sikio yawned and Kali quickly looked up to ensure that he was asleep, but his eyes remained closed. He stretched and Kali felt the muscles tighten and then relax under the soft coating. Perhaps underneath he has the same build as any other young male, she thought.
‘Utani was right,’ she said under her breath. He had been overeating. Most heavier set males that Kali had come across made up for their bulk with a healthy dosage of muscle, but Sikio seemed to be as plush as he looked. As if in response to Kali’s thoughts, the rogue rolled onto his back and then onto his other side, his underbelly facing the lioness temptingly.
He had quite a belly when he stood, but the way it spilt across the floor towards her was too much to resist. She guiltily looked up to make sure that he was still asleep, and then daintily rested a paw on his belly. The weight of her paw alone allowed it to sink slightly into his soft flesh. She experimentally gave a few rubs across the length of his paunch, watching in fascination as the pressure she applied distorted the shape of it.
Kali grinned to herself and lay down next to him. She needed sleep and the quicker she got some rest the quicker she would be able to learn more about the mysterious rogue. She wiggled backwards so that his belly pressed against her back and shut her eyes.
20 May 2020 at 06:09:04 MDT
Chapter 4 can be found here: https://www.furaffinity.net/view/36542719/
I have edited and partially rewritten the first three chapters of my Korongo story to make the writing less clunky, and I've put them all in one upload for your reading convenience! There are a few minor differences to the plot and from now on this version will be considered canon and I'll add the older chapters to my scraps. Also, I have removed mature content from chapter three, but this can be found at the very end of the version in my scraps if you're curious. And last but not least, I'm writing chapter four right now, so this story will continue very soon.
~ Korongo: The Beginnings - Chapter One: A Plump Stranger
~ Korongo: The Beginnings - Chapter Two: Eyes for Another
~ Korongo: The Beginnings - Chapter Three: The Pride
Korongo: The Beginnings follows a young lioness as she develops a relationship with a mysterious (and plump!) rogue. Naturally, weight gain is central to the story. Enjoy! :)
Icon by sugarboy