The fifth summer of Mynar’s reign had been a long, hot, brutal season. The grasslands that made up the lions’ kingdom had once been lush and verdant, but now they laid withered and brown. The river had dried up to a trickle, and its banks, whose cool mud the youngest cubs had once loved to roll in, were hot and dry after months of baking in the cruel sun. Worst of all, there was no food.
The gazelles had fled ages ago, loping northward in search of greener pastures. The other beasts had followed, one by one, until only the rabbits were left, sheltered from the sun in their warrens. But the rabbits were gone now, too; although their labyrinthine underground tunnels had spared them from the worst of the heat, they had run out of food too. And so it came to pass that one morning Mynar awoke to total silence – no chirping of birds, or scuttling of mice, or whirring of insects. At that moment, Mynar knew that he and his people were alone on the grasslands.
Mynar was a good king, and he knew that he must feed his pride or else die trying. That morning, when he realized how utterly desolated his kingdom was, he made a decision: he would journey as far as he needed to in order to find prey to hunt, and he would drive that prey back to his kingdom. Although he knew that what he was doing was dangerous, and not something to lightly undertaken, he also knew that it was his duty. He had spent five years living a life of royal ease, and now it was time to prove what he was made of. Now it was time to prove why he was king. He knew that if he did not venture out past the boundaries of his kingdom in search of food his people, his crown would grow too heavy to wear. If Mynar did nothing, he knew that he would have to give up the title of king to a better, more worthier lion.
He called his pride to an assembly beneath the massive baobab tree, and there, pacing regally before them, he told them of his plan. Most of them looked hopeful; some of them looked doubtful, and a few seemed downright disbelieving that he could ever succeed. Rauman, his oldest rival, had a mutinous glint in his eye, and Mynar knew that if he lingered too long away from his people, Rauman would try to usurp his position. Still, the face that held his attention the longest was that of his mate, Yvora. He could tell that she was trying to keep her composure, if not for him, then for their cubs, but fear and sadness were plain on her face in spite of the calm facade she wanted so desperately to maintain.
Later, when Mynar and Yvora were alone, he nuzzled the side of her face and then gently took the scruff of her neck between his great, sharp teeth, shaking his head softly from side to side.
“I know that you must go,” she sighed. “But that doesn’t mean that it must be easy for me.”
Mynar released her and gently butted his head against her side.
“It will not be easy for me either,” he murmured. “I will miss my mate and my children. But I know that if we do not find food soon, I may no longer have a mate and children.”
Wordlessly, Yvora sank to the ground and lay her head on her paws. Mynar stretched out beside her, and together they sat in silence for some minutes.
As the parents of young ones know, it is rare for a mother and father to be afforded time alone together. This is as true for lions as it is for humans, and it wasn’t long before the hazy afternoon quiet was broken by the sound of their two young cubs bounding towards them.
“Bring me back a whole antelope, father!” cried Kaura, ever the louder, more rambunctious sister, as she leapt onto Mynar’s back.
Mynar jumped to his feet, let out a low growl, and began to playfully thrash from side to side, trying to shake Kaura off.
“Do you really think that you could eat an entire antelope? Such a little thing as you? What a greedy cub you are!” he said, laughing as Kaura dug her claws in and gamely kept her seat.
“I do! I do think that I could eat an entire antelope, father!” laughed Kaura, finally releasing her grip and letting herself tumble to the ground. “At least, I could eat a very small antelope by myself.”
“And you, Teva,” Mynar said, turning to his younger daughter. “Is there anything that I should bring back for you?”
“Only yourself, father,” she said, her small face serious. “For how would we ever live with out you?”
“You could live without me more easily than you could live without food,” said Mynar, gently cuffing the back of his daughter’s head and making her smile. “But since you won’t choose for yourself, I will choose for you. A fat rabbit will make a fine meal for my sweet Teva, so that is what I will bring her.”
“Yes, please, father!” said Teva, her smile broadening into a grin. “A nice fat young rabbit with plenty of meat on its bones.”
It wasn’t long before the sky was growing pink and evening was creeping across the land. Mynar made the rounds of his pride, bidding each of his subjects, even Rauman, a fond farewell. Finally, he gave Yvora one last nuzzle and licked both Kaura and Teva on the tops of their small, fuzzy heads.
“Goodbye, my girls,” he said gravely. “Be kind to each other and care for your mother. Remember that you are the king’s daughters, and that it is your duty to help look after the pride. Remember that I love you.”
“We will, father,” they said in unison. Teva looked as if she might cry, and even Kaura’s face was serious, all traces of laughter gone from her eyes.
“Farewell, my king,” said Yvora, bowing low to her mate.
“Farewell, my queen,” responded Mynar, sinking into his own bow.
Their formal goodbyes done, Mynar drew himself up to his full height and, reaching a paw up to his head, knocked his crown to the ground. He watched it roll in the dust before settling near Yvora’s feet.
“My crown will only be a hindrance to me out there in the wild,” he told his family. “Keep it safe for me until I return.”
“Of course,” murmured his mate, bending down and delicately taking the crown with her teeth. “No lion shall wear this crown until our king returns.”
Mynar nodded once, then turned his back on his family and walked off into the deepening night.