Night had fallen. Moto the vulture stood upon the highest branch of Neema Tree. Its dry twigs cracked as he glanced below.
His committee moved in twitches. The hunched and ruffled birds squirmed against boulders: a mesh of scattered feathers. Each tilted their necks for rapid scans. No other animal in sight…
Among the vulture crew, Upepo maintained his eyes on their meerkat captive, Ma, sitting on a bouncing branch below Moto. Her chest moved with quick, shallow breaths.
“This is sad.” A vulture began. Moto’s eyes widened, leering at his followers.
“They told you…sunset. Sunset. I heard ‘em. You heard. We all got it. Do you see a sunset?” The vulture graced a wing feather across his forehead, feigning a horizon inspection.
“Oh lookie, it’s almost morning again. We coulda had a good pecking with the plump one there, but nah, those nasty mammals, they’ll bring a whole buffet if you keep it alive. Sure. Promise this. Promise that. Empty! Like our bellies.” The vulture cried out. Moto flared his wings, extending them to the length of his committee below.
“Shut it, Baridi. You start complaining now? Wait a bit longer!” He asserted.
“He’s right sir! We find the buffet first and then wait. We haven’t found nothing since Nyekundo Canyon.” The largest vulture chimed in, nodding.
“Don’t…don’t forget the quicksand, Shtuko.” Another smaller one waddled forward with a meek yelp.
“Yeah, yeah whatever Johari. I don’t remember getting to rip a hunk of that week-old rhino. That don’t count!” Shtuko declared, looming over his smaller acquaintance.
“Oh, okay. Sorry Shtuko…” Johari waddled back into the ranks. Smirking, Shtuko spread his gangly yet massive wings, blowing speckles of dust to Johari and the surrounding buzzards. Shrieks and bellows sounded. Behind the crowd, however, Ma gently tucked herself under the exposed tree roots and began digging into the dirt.
The vultures had begun to peck at each other. Feathers flew in the dust cloud. Ma began descending into the ground. She crawled through the gravel. Closer still. Almost.
A fierce pull drew her back. She gasped, reaching to the ground as she ascended. Upside down, Ma turned and saw a rather diminutive vulture gripping her tail by his claw.
He flew up through Neema’s branches, halting behind Moto still bouncing on the top.
“Almost lost her. Again.” Ma’s captor glared at Upepo, pulling up a companion’s wing over his crouching frame to hide.
“Good catch, Mzingo. Young and ready this one is.” Moto said. Ma dangled from Mzingo’s claw and stared at the gathering flock… eagerly awaiting an accidental fall. Baridi stepped forth.
“I’m tired of waiting! We’re the laughing stock of the animal kingdom. We need to show ‘em plans of our own. You heard Scar lately…” Baridi flew onto a thin branch and leered over the entire committee.
“What he needs are hunters beyond these here borders. He won’t let just any groundling have a go at it, so if we get to thinking, we’re sure to find food better than them hyenas.” As Baridi continued, Ma’s neck fur stiffened.
“Scar?” She muttered. Mzingo and Moto had listened.
“Got something to say, loose legs?” Moto leaned near Mzingo’s foot, neck extending beyond collar.
“What?! She said something? Eh, never mind, give her here!” Baridi began to flap his wings, soon tackled by the rest. All eager to reach the tree’s peak. Ma shook.
“Wait, hold on! Hold… on! I know about Scar. King of the Pride Lands, isn’t he?”
“Yeees, how did you…”
“Well, where I come from, we’re always moving. Nomad. Heard of those dear? So, I came across the valley by the Pride Lands one day and heard with my own ears, King Scar’s wanting the herds back. You vultures are who he trusts.”
“You’re lying! You didn’t get anywhere close to hear anything. Scar and his armies would have tracked you down easily.”
“Ah, but how many times have I almost gotten away today? Like four, six times? I’d say you are better at tracking than he makes you believe…eh?” Ma felt herself slipping but clutched a brittle branch, “We meerkats are the best at hiding. But you. You’re the ones we watch out for the most.” Ma smiled as she dangled below. Moto turned her upside, still in his clutch.
“You talk sweet things. Wise rat. Don’t want me dropping ya yet, eh?” Moto replied. Ma sternly looked at him.
“You expect the hyenas to let you take the credit? They went after elephants… and look, they left you waiting for nothing. King Scar wouldn’t want just two or three elephants. Oh honey, you can bring a better feast than that.” Ma began, still dangling.
“Whole herds. Scar would trust you, flyers, to cover more land for hunts. Lions and hyenas can barely get by these days without looking to the skies for kettles. Am I right, buzzards?” Ma panted. She attempted to turn. The birds stood with keen stares, two nodding at each other with crooked necks.
“Well, we prefer the name vultures, if I do say so myself.” Mzingo replied, his feathered brow groomed neatly back.
“Vultures, buzzards, whatever. The rat’s right! Them hyenas are getting all the uppity praise since Scar took over. Who knows how many meals they’ve snagged ‘cause of us…?”
“Yeah, we’re the ones doing all the work ‘round here!”
“We fly! They ain’t got the smarts for that.”
“Yeah!” Johari flared his wings with the rest at last. Shtuko swiped at his head with a rigid wing.
“Shut your beak, Johari.”
“S-s-sorry.” Johari muttered. The birds all begun bobbing their necks in unison, raising their hackle feathers. Ma looked above her to Moto, staring from his committee to Ma.
“Augh! Okay, say I don’t gulp you down right here. What do you expect out of us?” Moto asked.
“Just a bit ago you’ve been scampering to flee. Now, that don’t sit right with me. Not without filling…” He began to open his beak, lowering it close to Ma’s ears. She grabbed Moto’s beak with a loose arm and pulled his head up to her own.
“That’s your problem! You keep going for scraps when you could be a better team. Send a group here, send another over there. That’s how we do it in my family. We get by. Think for yourselves. Show the lions who’s the real saving grace to the kingdom.” Ma replied. Moto’s eyes widened. Looking onto the dark horizon, Moto set Ma upon a sturdy branch with utmost caution.
“You’ve got a way with words, lady,” Moto responded, turning his gaze back to Ma. “You wanna know what I think? I think you’se is right. We’ve been letting those yeens slink beneath us and fetch the food. No. We’re the best darn scouts the Pride Land’s got. Bring Scar some herds, eh? Nah, I say we take the whole desert border, better yet, the whole frontier! We’ll show ‘em every path there is.” Moto declared, raising his wing to gesture a sweep at the night sky.
“I do say, what are you getting at, Moto?” Mzingo asked from below. Moto swept down to the committee in one blunt dive.
“I say we follow those hyenas. Together. Elephants stick to water pretty closely I hear. Where there’s water… there’s herds. We’re gonna give King Scar the best…” Just as Moto stirred the crowd, the ground gave way below them. Hands reached out to the vultures’ legs, pulling and tugging them into tunnels. The birds squawked and tried pecking at the ground.
“Dust in me eye! My foot’s going under!”
A dust wave rose from the havoc and shielded the committee from view. Each vulture flew to the skies as twigs hit their necks in midflight. Feathers were pulled from hindquarters, including the mere three from Baridi’s.
“I’m outta here!” Upepo squawked and began his glide towards the violet sky. Among the shortest, Mzingo leapt free from his companions, still stirring up clouds of dust. He finally saw through to the desert lands.
Mzingo squinted at his surroundings, spotting the fleeing vultures. Suddenly, he caught sight of a lone meerkat at the base of Neema tree.
“Jump already, you crazy mashugana!” He grunted.
“You don’t have to tell me twice!” Ma slid onto branches until reaching the sandy floor, soon disappearing among the flutter of feathers and dust.
“The colony…” Mzingo whispered.
“Help, I’m buried here! Let me out Baridi!” Shtuko squawked, legs frantically kicking.
“Shut up Shtuko, me tail’s missing. I’ve lost me feathers!” Baridi turned frantically. Johari shook himself and approached Shtuko.
“Yeah Shtuko! Shut. Up.” He pecked at his sunken leg, letting him burst out with a yelp.
“Augh! You’ll regret that!” Shtuko shouted as Johari blew a hill of sand onto him, ascending into flight.
“Hang on, where’s the rat? I can’t see the top of the tree. Agh! Sand all over my wings.” Moto cried, still oblivious to his committee retreating. Mzingo looked at the feet of his remaining comrades. There they were. Tunnels galore, each filling quickly again with sand slides as the panic proceeded.
“Brilliant. That sharp gal was distracting us” Mzingo began, “Together eh? Hmm. I see now.” He grinned, looking now at the rising run.
Whirls of sand graced Pumbaa's belly. His two meerkat friends walked beside him, scratching each other’s backs. Heat sweltered, halted on occasion by strong winds. As the sands swept by, the clearing ahead revealed a dry, rigid desert floor, soon marking...
"The tracks! Yay! Didn't I tell ya, Timon? Didn't I? Huh, huh?" Pumbaa exclaimed, legs joined in short hops. He reached for Timon's shoulder, patting it with a gentle foreleg.
"Oh, that you did, buddy. That. You. Did." Timon proclaimed. He leapt into the nearest track and sniffed away. A grin spread across the meerkat’s cheeks as he rubbed bits of sand on his fingertips.
"Hmm, if you came here by smell, then consider me surprised. I was worried you were chasing your own tail."
"No hyena paws neither, Timon. They must have split somewhere back at the gorge." Pumbaa said. He caressed the ground and Timon nodded.
"Hmm, musta missed them below. Good point, Pumbaa. Those elephants definitely came through here though. At least from where I'm standing. What say you, Fredmeister?" Timon asked.
"Are we looking for spots or cracks? 'Cause I dunno." Fred scratched his ears as Timon stood, mouth agape.
"Whaddya mean you don't know, you mook? I thought you were lead sentry material!"
"Hey I look for big and scary predators! I earned my spot in the crew fair and square. Guy before me forgot to flinch. Hmm…you know, snakes' mouths sure do stretch a lot." Fred pondered. Timon placed a wide hand onto his mug, slipping it down to reveal a sneer.
"Alright, alright. You are gonna make yourself useful. Look for a trail then.” Timon replied. Fred leaned back, neck straight and stiff.
"How do I do that?"
"Gah, stand on that rock and just look around."
"Around for what?"
"Yeesh, just go!"
"Oh okay...right away, mister I-don't-need-you-guys-buh-bye." As Fred finished, Timon scowled back.
"Don't push your luck, Fred. We coulda left you at that death trap Max called a tunnel."
“Augh, I’m really missing Max now.” Fred whispered. He scurried towards the slanted boulder at the edge of the sand beds.
Pumbaa, now tip toeing onto rougher land, approached Timon at his side. He noticed him rubbing the back of his nape with a sluggish palm. Pumbaa snorted and Timon slowly turned.
“Still thinking about the colony, Timon?” Pumbaa asked. Timon breathed in and sighed.
“Oh I can’t help it, Pumbaa. Last thing I did was yell at them. Now Ma’s in danger and her own boy isn’t out there for the rescue. I keep thinking, what if... what if Simba’s just waiting for nothing.” Timon sighed.
Pumbaa squatted beside his friend, staring ahead into the horizon and oblivious to the rising warmth.
“Timon. Remember what Simba’s mother told you, she could tell right away that Ma was a smart leader. You gotta trust not just in your ma but also in the whole family. To be brave like us when we fought Scar’s hyenas to help Simba. If what they said was true, the colony has a chance." Pumbaa explained. Timon bent his back and shielded his eyes with both palms.
"They're together. That's what's important. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Oy, those hyenas. I thought for sure they took a hike! Those bullies are what led me to leave home in the first place. I knew, I just knew Pumbaa, there had to be a place...without predators like them. And wouldn't you know, we found it." Timon declared.
"We sure did!"
"Yeah, I was gonna show Ma our swings by the waterfall. And now... anyways, hey Fred! What's taking so long?! Do you see a trail from there?" Timon turned to Fred, now hurriedly pointing to several directions.
"Uh yeah, these keep going on east, no west...uh, that a way!" Fred said. Pumbaa noticed the still flat desert floor and picked himself back up, nudging Timon as well.
"Okay! Hop on buddy. You know, I think going beyond what you see can also mean in yourself. Maybe you can start making things right with Fred?" Pumbaa asked.
"Wha? What are you talking about?" Timon replied, now contorting his face into a grimace.
"Yeah, what are you guys chatting about?" Fred asked, leaping onto Pumbaa's rump.
"Timon's gotta tell you something! Ahem, Timon?" Pumbaa cleared his throat, lightly shoving Timon with his cheek.
"I...I... I uh, gee remember the oasis?"
"Oh right, that imaginary place you got us all worked up about? And I thought I pulled the best pranks, Ha, ha, ha!" Fred laughed.
"Grrrrr, I'm telling ya, Pumbaa. There's no getting to this guy."
"Timon… for the colony."
“Listen Fred, I'm sorry for saying all that stuff back there. I, uh, wasn't thinking straight is all, what with the heat and everything."
"What I mean is...I guess I owe you an apology. You know how much Ma means to me." Timon responded at last. Fred turned.
"Oh yeah? She means a lot to everyone too. But yeah, if I remember, you used to cry about every little thing. Too much dirt, scrapes, the never-ending darkness. She'd always give you the time of day."
"Aw, you were a clingy baby! So cute!" Pumbaa cried out.
"Shush buddy! I'm trying to let this out here! It ain't easy. Look Fred, I trust my Uncle Max. He may be a stickler for rules but he's the closest thing I had to a Pa. He really goes crazy for us. I just couldn't believe he'd go chase after her like that. It’s Max!" Timon explained.
"Oh..." Fred uttered. Timon threw his arms up and began walking away.
"Yeah, yeah, do your worst, you heckler. Nothing's gonna..."
Fred wrapped an arm around Timon's back, pulling him for an embrace.
"Oh I'm sorry too, happy? Maybe I wanted to leave so badly, sure. Can you blame me? Us? All of this is scary. We lose a member in the colony and then move on so fast. First time I’ve really thought about not living. Fred said, letting his arms dangle.
“I guess I am kinda annoying; the pranks, the laughs, the cave-ins, false alarms..." Fred snickered.
"Kinda?" Timon pouted.
"Hey! I guess I am this way 'cause...I feel you wouldn't notice me gone if I'm not." Fred replied.
"Oh." Timon looked down, noticing Pumbaa glance back with wide eyes.
"Maybe you heading out, all of this, really was the best thing to happen to the colony. You're kinda like a new Fearless Buzz, you know?" Fred said, elbows bent towards sides.
"You think so?" Timon asked.
"I'm telling you, when I was ready to skedaddle, it just took one kat to change their minds, all ‘cause of you." Fred rubbed his arm and Pumbaa began to coo.
"Aw, see Timon? One meerkat at a time. We'll see everybody again, soon."
"Ha, ha okay I'll give you credit there, Pumbaa. We're probably doing okay. Probably. I'm ready to have a serious talk with those stubborn giants. Whaddya say, Fred? See this through to the end?" Timon stuck out his hand towards the other meerkat. Fred tensed, but then he too gave his firm clutch.
"Oh now you do, eh? Well, how's about I tell you about the oasis again?"
"Please! Something's gotta take my mind off the sun. Phew!" Fred exclaimed.
"Well, like I said, it's paradise. No worries at all. Beyond what you see. Oh ho! You ain't seen nothing yet. Forests filled with shady trees; tunnels are not necessary. A buncha logs filled with crawlie: all you can eat! Pools for the little guys, no sweat." Timon gestured a swim paddle through Pumbaa’s mane.
"You had me at trees, can't wait." Fred replied.
We'll get there. Right now, our friend Simba needs his own oasis back. Soon, you big fuzzball. Hang in there." Timon declared, pointing behind him towards the sky. Pumbaa grunted at the front.
“Still on the path, Timon! Scent’s stronger here.” Pumbaa took a deep whiff of the clearing but sneezed immediately with a buck. Fred fell off to the side and scampered under the warthog.
“Keep it down! Those hyenas are still after us.” Fred said in jitters, then frantically climbing back on. Pumbaa leapt up, all four legs pressed together.
“Oh, sorry.” Pumbaa replied. Timon patted his head.
“Eh, don’t be. Better from the front than the rear…” Timon began, but perched against Pumbaa's snout, "Wait, you hear that?"
A small vibration pressed up onto Pumbaa's hooves. They shook and saw the pebbles around bounce. As the three friends glanced around, a massive shadow cast onto them. There stood a familiar face…
"You again? You have a lot of explaining to do." Ma Tembo boomed, rearing her tusks against the three travelers. Pumbaa shivered, looking up at Timon. His friend merely huffed his chest and jumped forward. He marched up to Ma Tembo’s trunk.
“You bet I do, Ma’am. Simba’s back! He needs your help.” Timon shouted. Ma Tembo’s furrowed brow relaxed, she raised her head and let her trunk dangle.
“You heard right! He’s beaten that big jerk Scar and reclaimed the Pride Lands. Now, he’s desperate for a water source. You heard about the drought? Well, you’ve probably seen it. You and the others are the only ones who could help him!”
“This is a lot to believe. You sent the hyenas after us. We nearly lost one of our own. Aminifu…” Ma Tembo turned with a frown behind her shoulder, but Pumbaa stepped forward.
“Aminifu is right. We’ve all been tricked. They were after us too. Those hyenas want to make sure the Pride Lands stay ruined forever. You’re the ones they fear, Ma Tembo.” Pumbaa added, now standing boldly beside Timon.
“You remembered my name. I’m sorry boys, but you can’t expect me to believe that Scar is truly gone. Every herd has met his army. We can’t go back. Aminifu swore of it. I can’t say I can trust you two again, and uh…” Ma Tembo raised a brow upon seeing the burgundy nosed meerkat. Fred bowed.
“Fred, your tall and mighty! I am from Timon’s colony. Everything my friend says is true. We come from the Eastern border and are King Simba’s best chance of getting help. You elephants are the most powerful animals to ever walk the lands. I’m scared just standing here. You can help bring the waters back to the Pride Lands.”
“Simba is dead. He passed along with King Mufasa long ago. Scar told…he told…” Ma Tembo said, ears lowered.
“I can prove it to ya. Ahem.” Timon coughed into a fist, straightening his back. He inhaled…
“His mother’s name’s Sarabi. Queen or something. We took care of her son this whole time. We came back; she sent us to reach you herself. Now, we were gonna do this in dance with the rest of the family, big hula and everything, but I’m just gonna say it. She told me you’d know it was safe to come back if the skies cried in bellows, ravines danced to the moonlight, and when all was starting to grow, the mountains would stomp…”
“…stomp the grass awake.” Ma Tembo finished. She looked down onto the three friends, each standing beside the next. Pumbaa glanced at both meerkats and all three smiled and nodded.
“He’s really alive?” Ma Tembo asked, eyes glittering among the sands.
Old, crinkled leaves blew across the heated tundra. Each ascended through the air’s dust. The swirl of browns spun against the bright sky: a large Gazania pedal over the horizon. The sun’s glare graced over the desert’s brief hints of fauna.
A herd of grey giants huddled near a pool at the edge of the sands. They walked atop cracked, dry ground. Several reached their trunks into the water, whispering in a flurry of hoots and grunts.
Suddenly, the herd shifted, leaning closer to the sand dunes behind. A loud trumpeting sounded out in the distance.
The massive mammals saluted with an echoing choir, preparing their welcome. One of their own returned from the outskirts, revealing herself with flapping ears. However, the herd’s own trumpeting dwindled at her arrival, finally coming into view.
A warthog followed a robust yet graceful elephant. The herd soon bellowed, tusks tilted, reignited with panic.
"Ma Tembo, what is the meaning of this?!" Zito asked.
The elephants took scampered steps and turned their bodies towards the pool. Several stood beside their peers, a barrier forming behind their eldest. The old elephant sighed at the front, with the dust clearing between himself and Ma Tembo. He scanned the horizon before him, soon pressing onto the ground with firm stomps as he approached.
The warthog stepped forward with a prance in its steps.
"Hello again!" Pumbaa exclaimed, then crouched as Aminifu glowered from above.
“Uh, hello again… your highness? No, mightiness! Right?” He asked with a wide smile. Atop Pumbaa’s head, Timon held a palm to his rustled forehead.
“Eh, we’ll let her sort things out first.” Timon patted Pumbaa’s hind leg as he slid down his back. Fred jumped and cowered behind Timon, grasping both of his friend’s shoulders.
“Ye-Yeah, good plan, good plan…” Fred uttered, now gulping at the sight of shiny, reflective tusks above.
"Ma Tembo, what have you to say for yourself?" Aminifu boomed. Tembo breathed in, eyes closed.
"Father, King Scar is no more." Ma Tembo declared, now staring back, eyes calm.
"What?" Aminifu replied, his brow softened.
"Our friends here come from the Pride Lands. Queen Sarabi requested our help to bring the waters back."
"But...but what of King Scar? He drove us away in the first place." Aminifu boomed.
"Prince Simba has returned. He reclaimed the throne."
"Mufasa’s son? No, it can't be. He..."
"…is alive! Sarabi confided in these animals the Dance of Amani. I've not seen it since we bid the pride our farewell."
"Ma Tembo, you mustn’t trust them. Why would Sarabi send them? Their majordomo would have delivered such news if a revolution took place." Zito spoke from behind their leader. Timon raised his hand from below.
"Well...not to break this talk, but the lions sent us. That birdie had his job to do, and we are doing ours. Simba’s back and he needs your help right awa..." Timon halted, flinching as one of the elephants nearly stampeded his direction.
"Simba?! Prince Simba of the Pride Lands?!" Zito exclaimed. The herd broke through the desert’s silence, whooping in surprise.
"Scar told us he had passed."
“After all this time…”
"Please stay together, Scar's hyenas are still out there! If they’re hunting us down, it’s at Scar’s command." Zito uttered.
Ma Tembo trumpeted back, gaining the attention of the elephant herd. They all glanced at her direction.
"Everyone please, … listen! We must return home. The hyenas that chased us are all that's left of Scar's army. They have no leader." Ma Tembo explained. Several retorted with short bursts.
“Uh-oh…” Fred gasped. The ground shivered as the elephants’ stomps shook the earth, now closing in to Aminifu.
“All that’s left?”
One stepped forth from the line, her smaller ears waving with the cradle of winds.
“Those hyenas were only trying to get at me; they must have known I was carrying…” She said, caressing her belly.
“It’s not like Scar’s army to hunt on their own…not this far. If they’re here, they might be desperate. Maybe Ma Tembo is…”
“…is too trusting, Jani. We all protected you after she led those fiends back to the herd.” Zito retorted.
“Zito, be reasonable, those hyenas couldn’t have taken one of us, let alone the whole herd. I told everyone before, it was as if they were only scaring us off.” An older elephant replied, her trunk raised to calm the crowd.
“They did retreat easily enough.” Another chimed in.
“Returning home… could we take the chance?”
“Well, I refuse to get near any hyena territory. Aminifu, you said so yourself. We cannot risk trusting other animals. Desperation plagues these lands. Every species for themselves. We have no place in the Pride Lands.” Zito finished. Aminifu stared at the three friends… then returned a gaze to his daughter.
"Ma Tembo, you mean well. Our home is with each other now. How I wish there was a place that welcomed us again. But please, do not make a fool of yourself. These acquaintances of yours, perhaps they are as lost as we are. Perhaps I said. But Zito is right… those predators claimed otherwise. We simply cannot intervene. Our place is for us to find again… alone. Aminifu declared, turning to his three smaller onlookers.
“You three should leave. Elephants, we're done here. Move!" Aminifu stomped back towards the northern horizon.
"Father, please listen." Ma Tembo reached for her father's trunk, but he pulled away.
"No, Ma Tembo, we almost did lose Jani at the canyons. You of all elephants should understand this, at least I had hoped you would.” Aminifu grunted. Ma Tembo gasped, letting her trunk drop. She stood still. Timon looked on. He bent his back, swung his arms and scampered ahead of his friends.
"Whoa, whoa, hold it there, your majesty!" Timon shouted, causing all to turn back.
"Pardon, were you referring to me?" Aminifu asked, casting a large shadow similar to the dark, desert nights. Fred hopped and pulled Pumbaa’s tail bush as cover. Timon breathed in, tail drooped.
“Eh heh… Yeah! If you don’t mind, maybe back it up a little? Appreciate the shade there, but you’re kinda like mountains up close to us meerkats… just look at that face.” Timon said, pointing to Fred. Pumbaa shoved aside and revealed the meerkat: trembling with peering wide eyes at each elephant. Aminifu remained still.
“Gee, Timon, thanks for the attention …really appreciate it…” Fred uttered.
"You really expect us to believe that the prince is alive?" Aminifu asked.
"Nope, I think you should believe your daughter.” Timon replied, glancing up. He coughed into his knuckle, dusting himself off with slight finger sweeps.
“Oh, and one little thing… We aren’t helping any hyenas! If anything, those carnivores have been chasing our tail trying to get back at us. Yours truly kicked them out of the big pointy rock.”
“There he goes…” Fred sighed, still in jitters. Pumbaa giggled, walking up to the awaiting herd.
"Elephants, we're staying with you this time. Yes, the hyenas followed us, but they tricked you. We didn’t mean to lead them here but they want you gone for good, by any means. They know you’re the only ones who could save the Pride Lands” Pumbaa explained, give each giant a pleading pout.
“Yep, we did help Simba come back. He wants his home to be safe again for aaaaall the herds big and small. It’s what my buddy Timon here wants too." As Pumbaa turned, Timon smiled back with a raised thumb. Fred scratched at his ear, eyes darting to the elder.
"Uh yeah, ahem, what the big guy said." Fred replied. Pumbaa beamed and bowed their new elephant friend.
"I also didn't know we were in the presence of a future leader. Thanks for trusting us, Ma Tembo." Pumbaa said.
"Of course. I can see why her majesty trusted you as well." Ma Tembo smiled, letting the warthog return the favor. Timon and Fred shrugged to each other and joined in, beaming with pride. Timon shook his head and focused his eyes back to the elephant leader.
"So… uh… yeah, Aminifu was it? As we once said to your new king, we are with you to the end!" Timon declared, bowing down to Aminifu.
“Timon, are you…” Pumbaa began.
“Wha’? The sun’s too bright, Pumbaa… just don’t rub it in.” Timon replied. Pumbaa snickered, hoof to snout.
The elephants turned to each other, eyes meeting a pair. Brows furrowing beneath the sun.
“Well, Aminifu… father, what is our next plan?” Ma Tembo asked. The elder turned to his daughter, embracing her cheeks with a dusty trunk.
“Even after all we’ve overcome, I am with doubt. The truth is, Ma Tembo, I expected better from myself. I didn’t plan for us to wander in exile for so long. I should have found a home for us by now.” Aminifu said, letting Tembo hold his trunk between the two.
“Well, you’ve kept us safe ever since. I believe you can give another chance to our neighbors. His majesty always spoke so highly of his subjects. It isn’t every day I see a warthog and a meerkat seek our help with such Pride Lander spirit… as you used to call it.” Ma Tembo chuckled as Aminifu broke into slight laughter. He turned to his visitors.
“I do miss a good laugh. Perhaps…perhaps I can trust my own daughter that a new reign is born. Prove something to me…eh… Timon is it? Did the queen mention anything about me?” Aminifu asked.
“Uh, you got a great sense of humor on you? ‘Cause I ain’t hearing it.” Timon scratched his fuzz on both ears, earning a hearty chuckle from the hunched elephant.
“This water is what you’ll be looking for. It will not last long though. However, if we can follow it to a larger source, and clear a path, I hereby place trust in my daughter to lead us anew.” Aminifu spoke, pointing to the small pool the herd guarded.
The elephants murmured, raising their ears and pulling their trunks up in loud trumpeting. Their trunks raised to the dancing winds and leaves, reaching towards the sun.
“Aminifu, sir, is it worth the risk?” Zito asked.
“Yes Zito. We shall return to the Pride Lands. Stay close, look to the trees. My daughter will lead by my side. If the drought is as severe as we remember, we must make haste.” Aminifu turned as Ma Tembo beamed. “Will you be helping then?” The elephants turned to Timon, Fred and Pumbaa.
“Thought you’d never ask, yeah sure, it’s a promise, your high-ness. Ah-ha, hahaha!” Timon exclaimed. Aminifu and the others halted.
“What gives? You heard that one before?” Timon asked.
The sounds of the wind began to whirl, mixed with pitches of yelps and hollers.
The elephants bundled together. Aminifu and Ma Tembo squinted at the sands behind their three smaller friends. At the top of the dunes were small shadows, peering before the light of the dusty sky.
The herd huddled, shaking their ears and raising their tusks. The shadows laughed, descending in unison.
“Get back everyone!” Ma Tembo yelled. Aminifu let forth an echoing rumble. The elephants began to turn, preparing to flee. Fred and Pumbaa backed away, waiting for Timon to follow.
“Timon, what are you doing?!” Fred shouted. Timon glanced back; his toes tilted at the herd. He stood, eyes facing the grey invaders.
Soon, the hyenas reached the desert floor, with one tumbling down through clumsy rolls. The largest skidded to a halt, sneering at the giants before her.
“Well, well… good work honey. Looks like we just in time.” She growled.
“Ow, Shenzi, I thought were gonna go one at a time. I think it’s burned again!” A hyena cried out, patting his hind quarters.
“Shush Banzai, our friends here are about to let us finish. Thanks for the help.” Shenzi said, approaching Timon at the elephant herd’s front. He stiffened his arms by his side. Pumbaa ran to his friend.
“Oh ho, can’t forget our friend the pig… oops, Mr. Pig.” Banzai cackled. The rest joined in, lining up before Timon and Pumbaa.
“These the ones you were yammering about?” A hyena asked, shaking her ears.
“You said there’d be a whole colony!” Another growled.
“Will you just pipe down, they’re our friends! Remember? Them elephants just can’t resist a cutie stalling for time!” Shenzi exclaimed, waggling her tail in prance and giddily glancing at the elephants in the distance.
“Not running this time, Shenzi. I’m showing them whose side we’re really on.” Timon said, crossing his arms. Shenzi lowered her snout to Timon’s eye level. She bared her yellow teeth, hissing amid a curled sneer.
“Oh, is that right honey? Well, whose side might that be? I dare ya to say it…”
“I think you got an idea, slobber breath.” Timon replied. The matriarch growled and protracted her claws as she hunched.
“You gotta lot of guts talking to me like that, after that stunt you pulled... We can let you go easy, only if you step aside and let us have our lil’ fun. Why you sticking up for lions anyways? They all for themselves eventually.” Shenzi sneered.
Timon’s breathing grew erratic as the hyena’s nose pushed onto his chest. Pumbaa stood a few hoofprints behind, still refusing to retreat.
“Well, you carnivores are all scary. Point taken. What do you say we split then and let the herd go, eh?” Timon whispered, with Shenzi chuckling, maw closed.
“Oh, how about no?” Shenzi chuckled, with the clan laughing nearer to their prey.
“Back away hyenas! They’ve explained everything. You will not intimidate us this time!” Ma Tembo boomed, stomping ahead. Fred peeked from behind her ear at the top of Tembo’s head.
“Yeah, let Timon go!” Fred shouted. The elephants stared in unison, watching as Ma Tembo approached Shenzi and Timon. Shenzi raised her head as the ground trembled.
“This one here? Ha! Alright, how about this? Say he’s lying… and he just doing what we tell him? Hmm? Still want him back?” Shenzi growled. The elder elephant joined his daughter, now surrounding Shenzi between both herd and clan.
“Tell me hyena, where is the rest of your kind? You chased us out with a whole army last time. Is this what remains?” Aminifu asked. The hyenas froze, each looking to their matriarch.
“Uh, he he, Scar’s got his army waiting for ya back in the Pride Lands. If these little guys told you to go back, you’ll just walk right into the rest.” Shenzi growled, legs straight and clutching the earth beneath.
“We warned you. And now, you’re just gonna have to leave for good if you know what’s best!” Shenzi spat, now chomping back in recoil at the elephants. Aminifu moved his trunk slightly out of reach.
“Then I suppose you won’t mind standing aside and letting us return?” Aminifu replied, lowering his head in a starting charge. The hyenas began to yelp, retreating behind Shenzi.
“We’re warning ya! No going back if you know what’s good for you!” Shenzi yelled. Ma Tembo joined her father.
“Elephants, together! Forward!” Ma Tembo trumpeted. The elephants shook, marching in unison with cautious steps, picking up momentum and gathering a dust storm. Even Zito joined in, holding Jani close as the hyenas formed a bundle of grey against the golden land. They joined their leaders at the front, baring their tusks and trunks towards the clan members.
“Sure do miss that Eddy. Could use a laugh now.” Banzai muttered. He faced his leader with a swift turn.
“Uh Shenzi, I don’t think we should stick around no more! Shenzi?!” Banzai replied, frantic in head twitches as several hyenas began to scatter.
Shenzi growled, leaping back as elephant trunks reached towards her. She spotted Pumbaa walking into the herd as they marched forward, helping Timon to his feet. Her eyes reflected the blaze of the sun’s blur.
The matriarch bounded after the two friends, with Fred spotting her direction. He scampered to Ma Tembo’s back.
“Guys look out!” He shouted. Timon climbed atop Pumbaa as they spotted Shenzi, rushing around elephant legs to snap at them.
“Oh no… Run Pumbaa!” Timon screamed as the duo sprinted. Shenzi almost scratched at their feet until Zito shoved her aside.
The elephants split, surrounding the hyena with tusks aimed steady. They pulled trunks and began to clobber the ground around her; a rhythmic beat of deafening blasts. She whimpered as two elephants charged at her from the sides, finally leading her out with Banzai.
“Let’s go already! Those clowns ain’t worth this.” Banzai exclaimed. Shenzi shook her coat free of dust.
“You think this is over! We got rid of your moms, we’ll get to chew you out next! Every last one of you for what we lost back home!” Shenzi screeched with a spread cackling smile.
“Every last one?” A voice rang out from the dunes’ top. A meerkat stood with a group forming beside him. The colony had arrived.
“You!” Shenzi yelled.
“That’s right, not flinching this time, missy. Get her!” The meerkat yelled, cupping hands over his snout.
Suddenly, the ground broke beneath Shenzi. She fell into a pit, filling in with sand.
Meerkats ascended before the hyena could snap at one, each poking out from the ground before her.
As the elephants approached, Shenzi crawled out against the burrowing sand. Banzai pulled at her ear.
“Fell for it again?!” Banzai shouted, voice muffled from his tug. The two hyenas retreated back into the desert, arguing amongst each other as the herd came to a halt.
“Uncle Max!” Fred shouted from atop Tembo, sliding back to the ground with Tembo’s gentle trunk. Pumbaa returned to the front, meeting face to face with the meerkat colony.
“Max? Everyone! You guys are okay! How’d you… “Timon stuttered.
“You do know you were making quite the ruckus, right? Hard to miss. We might be better at hunting than those hyenas now.” Max replied.
Timon dropped from Pumbaa’s snout and embraced the older meerkat with open arms. However, Timon pulled back, gripping Max’s shoulders.
“Wait, what about… “Timon began, with Max pulling a finger up to his mouth.
“Ah, ah, bup, look.” He pointed to the pit trap, now bustling with meerkats bursting up into view. Timon glanced at Max, then proceeded down into the clearing, elephants surrounding. He could hear the chatter of proclaims as each meerkat welcomed him. He patted backs and shook hands, smiles around. However, one voice caught his attention within the crowd.
“You okay sweetie? Yeah, I know, you did great! That dig was the best hurrah I ever did see!” Timon scooted in even further, meerkats walking to clear a path. Timon’s eyes watered, fists unclenched as she finally stared back. The two meerkats shared no words. They rushed towards each other, with a tight hug that followed. Elephants and meerkats let them be. Bright leaves twirled around the two as they departed into the sky again.
Some time after…
The sun shined brightly above a robust baobob tree, its shade covering a nestled group of animals listening in on an excited, dramatic meerkat. The green fields whistled the tunes of bird flocks and frantic herd gatherings.
“…And so, we travelled again through the desert, found that sneaky watering hole beyond the canyon falls. I gotta tell ya, it was pretty great getting to see it all from an elephant’s view.”
“Right, right, I’m getting there… Ahem, we got back to the Pride Lands and Ma Tembo was able to see that the rightful king returned after all. No apology needed I said. Lions and elephants! They got to meet up, catch up on old times and then…”
“Oh, oh, oh!”
“Yes princess?” Timon asked.
“And then mom and Rafiki came back with the other herds, getting help for the river dig.” A giddy, orange lion cub responded. Timon applauded.
“Bingo! We got everyone coming in and keeping the water pouring into the barren river trenches. Big trip through the desert but everyone chipped in pretty well. Oh, it was worth the extra talk getting the elephants to clear a few dams.” Timon explained.
“Yup, yup. All of the grass came to grow. The animals each did their best to help the land blossom once again!” Pumbaa shouted. Through pitches of acclamation around the luscious sun lit fields, yet another cub spoke.
“But what about the colony? Did they find a home here?” She asked.
“Well, Tiifu, my family made themselves at home someplace else. Eh, I thought I’d fit in with them back at the oasis, and I did for a bit, but… I guess I felt more at home here. Besides, you’ve got your uncles watching out for ya, eh Kiara?” Timon asked. The bright cub giggled, rolling her eyes.
“Good, eh? I still miss ‘em, but at least I got them outta the tunnel business. Nice to know they’re resting up like we were back then, before we adopted your dad. He was as small as you once, that little guy.” Timon cooed. Pumbaa nodded.
“Timon, you know that Simba is the best thing that’s ever happened to us!” Pumbaa exclaimed, nestling Kiara’s head with a light hoof.
“Oh, you got that right pallie. So, that’s how we got things back to normal around here. Fixer upper’s all done! Ahem, so Kiara, when’s that new brother or sister coming? I won’t mind telling this one over again.” Timon said, folding his arms behind his back as he lay on the fields belly up, glancing up at the towering baobob tree branches. A small painting of smiling meerkats was etched upon the trunk.