"I don't blame you for your opinion on lions. After all, we do have a rep for being, well, controlling." She adds with a small laugh. "So, what do you plan on doing, now that you're free of the Congo? Plan to join a pride or make your own?"
"Gosh, I haven't really thought about that," he said, staring up at the leaves of an overhanging tree. "My plan was: meet lions. Learn to act like a lion. Learn how to hunt like a lion, to roar like a lion. Though I think my roar's pretty good." He rolled onto his side. "Do you think I'd make a good pride leader? And hey, how does this whole king-ship thing work? If I start my own pride am I automatically a king? Or do I need to find a whole bunch of elephants and giraffes... Or zebras... Or both to come bow down to me first? If we started a pride together, would that automatically make you a queen?" Then recognition hit his face, and he lay back down to stare at the sky. "Err... Hypothetically, of course." He glanced at her sideways, a small embarassed smile on his lips.
"You're definitely thinking ahead." She giggles. "As for how the whole king-ship works, it can either go two ways. You find a pride and over throw the king, or you can just start from scratch. You know, finding a good territory, claiming it, earning the animals' respect, stuff like that. As for me being a queen?" Niani never thought about it, but the idea is appealing. "I guess it would happen, since I would technically be the first lioness. Hypothetically, of course."
Harufu thought for a while. "So I could go overthrow the upstart that overthrew your father... say, if I was strong enough. But if I go to overthrow a king, won't the lionesses defend him? Or like, all the other animals? Especially if he's a good king, I mean."
Instead of answering the questions, Niani stands up and looks at Harufu with a critical eye. "Why are you willing to do that? To go challenge the new king of my old pride. I pegged you for the type to try a build your own. Why would you want to help my family like that. To help me?" She pads over to him and stands over him, almost muzzle to muzzle. "I made it clear that I was prepared to be on my own and start over. Why are you willing to do this for me? When we've only just met. Not that I'm complaining, but I am curious."
Harufu shrank back, drawing his ears back as Niani loomed closer. "I'm not sure I am willing. I was just asking if it was a possibility, that's all. I'm still learning, remember?" When it became clear she wasn't about to attack him, he stood up and looked out over the water. Flamingos were still wading up the other end. "But look, if you'd like to make a go at having a pride together, I'd be willing to try that, after I get to know you better. And then who knows: if getting your old pride back is something you'd really want me to do then, well, love would compel me, wouldn't it?" He looked over his shoulder at her and grinned gently.
She coughs as she takes a few steps back, ears flatten and face burning. "I-I didn’t mean- I j-just didn't want you to do something out of your league for the sake of a near stranger, that's all." Niani shakes her head and pulls herself together. "You know what? Let's focus less on king-ship, and focus more on turning you into a decent lion. Tomorrow." She adds with a yawn. It's already getting quite late and sleep would be nice. She walks near a boulder and lays down, curled up in a comfortable sleeping position. "Goodnight, Harufu."
"Uh, goodnight," Harufu said. He waited until the moon and stars were out, before moving over and settling down near the base of Niani's boulder. He liked the night, the way everything went all silvery in the moonlight. It reminded him of the Congo, where it was safe. Not in these strange lands, with these strange people and their violent successions. A shuddering sigh escaped his lips. He slept for a little bit, but woke up towards the middle of the night, as he usually did. The flamingo was nearby, so he pulled it over by one long leg. Why not dress it, he thought? Niani might appreciate that, come morning. He bit into the downy feathers then spat them into the grass, but of course they floated everywhere but down. That gave him an idea, and the idea put another stupid grin on his face. He bit into the feathers and blew them over his head, watching soft little feathers rain down around him. He did it again and again, but what he didn't realise until it was too late that the wind had carried them. Harufu wasn't the only one covered in soft little feathers. Niani looked like a half-plucked chicken too! He stared at her in horror, wondering what she would do when she woke up, wondering if it would be better to simply leave. He stood, moving away a few paces into the grass, where he could keep an eye on her but where he'd be mostly concealed. Perhaps leaving wouldn't be a good idea - after all, aside from being frightening, he loved her laughter - but a little more distance between him and the sleeping lioness covered in down would be of an advantage come morning.
Feeling a tickle on her nose, Niani wakes up around sunrise with a sneeze. Through her blurry vision, she sees a small flurry of pink fluff fly around. "Huh?" She blinks, now clearly seeing that the pink fluff was feathers. Flamingo feathers. "Now, I know I didn't fall asleep like this." She also notices a certain lion was suspiciously missing and a defeathered flamingo carcass. Standing and stretching, she notices a small trail of feathers leading to a concealing patch of tall grass. With her face blank of emotion, she deliberately walks toward the grass and sticks her head in, coming face to face with a frightened, and also feathery, Harufu, staring at her with wide eyes. With a small smirk, she bats at the dandelion hovering over his face and watch as the tiny fluff seeds drift on top of him. "There. Now we're even." She giggles.
Harufu grinned, then sighed with relief. "In my defense, it was an accident," he said. "Now I guess we both look like a couple of flamingos. But if you permit me, m'lady," he stood. "I'll gladly groom you until you're looking your usual lionessy self."
"I wasn't hiding," Harufu said. "I was watching." He used his claws to brush out most of the feathers, then paused, wondering just how personal was... too personal. Cautiously he used his tongue along her back and neck, doing his best not to linger in one place too long, or to make it too obvious he was enjoying himself. But in actual fact he found it quite thrilling. By the end he was licking her arms, and finished by holding her paw in his own and licking it, looking into her eyes and smiling. "I find it easy to smile around you," he said, knowing it was a bit of a venture.
She blinks at the sincere look in his eyes, then grins shyly. "I happen to believe that the feeling is mutual." Niani says, taking her paw from his. Deciding to be a little bold on her own, she gives him a small lick on the side of his face before standing up and stretching. "So, what should we catch for breakfast?"
Harufu grinned, having to consciously dismiss the thought that he wouldn't wash his face for a week. "Well, you can have the flamingo. And anyway maybe we should have another go at the stripey horses. Zebras, right?" he said, cocking an eyebrow. "I wonder if the limping one is still around. They were heading upstream, weren't they?" He gestured to the distant river, only visible because of a thickening and darkening of the trees that grew there.
"That depends," Harufu said, crossing his eyes at a feather on his snout, "on if you WANT to groom me. I'd very much enjoy the attention, I'm sure, but I can wait until after we've eaten if you want. And anyway, perhaps a feathery lion would confuse the poor beasts into laughing themselves silly? Or maybe I'd just stand out more. Hmm." He cocked his head to one side, looking sideways and pursing his lips in mock thought.
"That's fine with me!" Harufu said, then trotted off. It was easy to find the zebra trails. They left a distinctive one-hoof print in the mud and grass. As he'd suspected the trail ran downriver, towards the west. Eventually the river would reach the sea. The river was fairly slow now, as the dry season was quickly approaching, Harufu guessed. He said, "So this dry season. Is the hunting better or worse? I imagine the animals are leaner but easier to catch."
"It's true. They can't eat as much and get slow. And the dry grass makes hiding easier. However, it's also very dangerous. Especially when it gets really dry." Niani explains, watching the herd to find the perfect catch.
"Some of them stop off at the river to drink, periodically," Harufu said. "We should follow them down there, yes?" He trotted over to the darker tree line, where the flora had the advantage of drinking straight from the river's sandy banks. Further down he could see some zebras drinking, and so crouched low, stalking forwards, but glanced over his shoulder to Niani to make sure she didn't have any better ideas.
Upon seeing Niani grin it was all Harufu could do to stalk forwards without swishing his tail around. He carefully stepped over roots and logs, remaining in the shadows to get the biggest advantage from his dark coat. Forty paces out. Thirty. Twenty. The zebras were still there, some coming, some going, but always at the same spot, and they were more concerned with looking over the water than watching their behinds. Harufu crept to the edge of the shadow, then bolted, picking the zebra that reacted last to chase as it ran down the river bank, kicking up sand as it went.
Seeing a chance, Niani bolts into action, using the kicked up sand as a cover. And, with a small burst of speed, she dives her body in front of the zebra and trips it. Ignoring the pain of the unwitting kicks to her shoulder and side, she quickly uses her jaws to snap the zebra's neck. Thus, killing it.
"Breakfast!" She smiles at her companion. "You can have the first bite."
Harufu could barely pick his jaw up off the floor. He hadn't seen lions hunt before but he knew the general principle: slow the beast down so others could come in and grab the neck, closing off the wind pipe. But this zebra had died in an instant. "How... did you do THAT?!" he asked, walking over and sniffing the carcass. He wasn't game enough to touch it yet, but looked up at Niani like she had grown a second head. "I thought this was going to be hard. In a good way. Like, a challenge. But you killed it like it was nothing." He cocked his head. "Who ARE you?"
Niani can't help but laugh at his display of awe. "I'm still just a lioness, I assure you. I just used a technique I learned from an old friend. Forgot how much it hurt, though." She winces and lies down. Tripping a zebra wasn't her wisest move.
Harufu ignored the carcass and wandered over to her, looking at her shoulder. "I reckon that'll leave a bruise," he said. "Hey, I know you lionesses are strong bossy independent females, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't do that again. Unless we're, like, starving or something." He gave her shoulder a few careful licks.
"I'll keep that in mind." She says, even though she's definitely enjoying the grooming, even if it is just to ease her soreness. Reluctantly, she gently bats him away and stands. "And while I love being spoiled and cared for, we should really eat."
"If you say so," Harufu said, moving away. "Though I could do this all day. You taste better than any zebra." Once he reached the killed beast he opened up the stomach, then stood back. "I know you said I could eat first but let me make two arguments to the contrary: One, I'm a male, and you're a female. So I should be a gentle lion. And two, you killed it. It's only fair you go first!" He grinned.
"You know, leopards usually like to play with their food for a while," Harufu said with a smirk. "But he doesn't look like playing. Oh-kay, I'll have something to eat then," he said, then wandered over, lay down next to Niani and tucked in. After only a bite his eyes lit up. "Whoa. This is much better than red river hog." Then he stuck his nose in again.