As Mynar drove the herd of antelope towards the grassy ridge that marked the boundary of his kingdom, he imagine the expressions of happiness and relief that would light up the faces of his cubs and mate when they him and his prey come charging towards them. That thought spurred him on, and he welcomed the extra surge of power in his legs. He had been harrying and driving this herd for days now, ever since he’d found them far to the north, near the edge of the Darkest Forest, and he could feel his endurance waning. While he knew that the antelope were likely nearing the end of their stamina as well, he didn’t want to risk losing his prey when he was so close to home.
With one final burst of speed, he chased the antelope over the ridge and into his kingdom, but at that very moment, what should have been his moment of triumph, Mynar stopped short and sank to the ground, his legs giving way beneath him. He didn’t notice that the antelope were quickly escaping, fleeing across the dry, caked mud of the river banks, splashing through what little water remained to freedom on the far shore. He didn’t notice that clouds were gathering above him, signalling the first real rain in weeks and weeks. He didn’t even notice the hunger pains in his belly that had been plaguing him for what seemed like forever. His entire attention was captured by the land that lay in front of him.
Mynar’s kingdom, once the lush, bountiful home to a noble pride of lions, spread out in ruin and desolation before him.
There was nothing, and no one, left.
How long Mynar lay there in the grass he could not say. Looking out across his ravaged kingdom, he felt nothing. Or rather, he felt a cold shadow creeping across his heart, a fear and sadness so overwhelming that he could only begin to try to understand it.
His land was lost. His people were lost.
As the last light began to leave the sky, Mynar struggled shakily to his feet and began to survey the destruction, to look for survivors. The land had been burned; all that remained of his kingdom was charred earth and blackened tree stumps. Even the giant baobab, whose spreading branches had once offered shelter, and whose leaves had shaded the lions during council meetings, social activities, and afternoon naps, was gone.
A few bones were scattered across the earth, although it was difficult to tell if they belonged to his brethren or other beasts. As a soft, warm rain began to fall, Mynar made his way to the river’s edge, where he came across a sight that caused him to bow his head in grief – there, on the hard, dried mud of the bank lay the body of Rauman, his rival and sometime foe, with a spear sticking out of its side.
Pacing around Rauman, and leaning in to sniff at the spear’s shaft, Mynar growled one word:
Man had been here. Man had done this.
With all the tenderness of a mother caressing her newborn cub, Mynar placed a paw on Rauman’s flank, gripped the spear’s shaft in his teeth and slowly pulled it out. He flung the offending weapon into the river and watched as it disappeared downstream. Only then did he feel ready to begin preparing Rauman’s last rites.
Grabbing Rauman by the scruff of the neck, Mynar dragged him towards the river. There he let the water rush over the dead lion, washing the blood stains off his pelt. Once that was done, Mynar pulled him out of the river and towards the boundary ridge that he had so hopefully, so happily crossed only a few hours before. Laying Rauman’s body in the charred stubble that remained of grass that had once abundantly covered his land, Mynar, heedless of the rain that still fell, began to dig into the side of the ridge. He dug all night, as the sky began to clear above them and the moon and stars swung overhead in their journey across the sky. Just as the as the eastern sky was beginning to grow pink, Mynar sat back on his haunches and surveyed the grave he had just made. It would serve, he thought to himself; the hole wasn’t as deep as it should have been, but it was the best that he could do under the circumstances.
Mynar grabbed Rauman one last time and gently laid his body in the grave. Following the traditions of their people, Mynar pressed his nose against Rauman’s and then rubbed his cheek along Rauman’s flank. He then turned away from Rauman and lay prone, his front legs reaching east towards the sun.
“May the Lion That Crosses The Sky greet you every morning with the sun on his back, and may his dark sister greet you every night with the moon in her teeth. May the rains fall gently upon our grave, and may the grass grown green above you. May your journey to the Dream Lands be safe and swift, and may we meet again in the great hereafter. Rauman, my brother, I give your body to the Grassland Kingdom, so that you may nourish in the same way that it has loved and nourished you.”
The burial ritual complete, Mynar began to throw all the loose earth he had dug up during the night onto Rauman’s body. By the time the sun had reached its zenith, the burial mound was complete. Only then did Mynar allow himself to rest on his haunches, tip his head back and let out a roar of hopeless desperation to the sky above.
Mynar knew that he should rest; his body was exhausted after days and days spent herding the antelope, and his strength was nearly at an end. But he could not stay here; he could not rest in his desolate kingdom. So, with a stiffness and heaviness that he had never felt before, Mynar rose to his feet and began walking north. He didn’t know where he was going, or how he would get there; he only knew that he had to leave this place.
On the morrow, he decided, he would form a plan to find and save his people.