"Pursuit" is the third episode of Hadithi Ya Hodari.
Badilifu and the huntresses are tasked with hunting down a ferocious Cape buffalo.
Taala finished lapping at a the marrow of a hippopotamus and rose to his paws, leaving the gnawed remnants of the bone behind. With a second thought, he glanced back. The bone had been large and thick, it had almost certainly come from a formidable opponent. He wondered if the creature had been difficult to kill. Had it put up a large fight? The lion cub wanted to satisfy his curiosity, and he knew who to ask. His eyes roved over the hill for a moment before coming to rest on the powerful khaki lioness who lay sprawled near the top, a slight distance away from the majority of the others. He approached her, and she glanced down at him, her eyebrows raised. ‘Yes?”
He sat down smoothly and met her olive gaze politely. “I was thinking about the catch you and the other huntresses brought back, Badilifu. It looked considerably large. I was wondering if it had been difficult to hunt.”
Badilifu gave a dry chuckle. “Cub, you’ve yet to have a real difficult hunt take place in your time. I still can recall my hardest time- and my first true hunt, as it so happens- it was really something.”
“Tell me about it.”
She shrugged. “If you say so. I can remember it like it was yesterday . . .
“I followed my mother’s golden form as we travelled further away from the hill, the violet evening sky shading our backs. I was a fresh young huntress, eager to prove myself, to impress my mother- Uzoefu, the leader of the hunt back then. She glanced back, her eyes- the same shade of green as my own- sweeping over the prepared huntresses, making sure everything was in order. Everyone was coming on this hunt, even me, still hardly more than a cub. It was no ordinary mission; no ‘go find us food’. It was more than that- we were targeting one animal in particular. For not a full day ago, one of our lions- our previous king’s father, in fact- had been gored by a Cape buffalo, resulting in his death. So it was our job to track down the ferocious animal and bring it to justice. And, of course, bring back a meal for the pride.
“Uzoefu’s broad head lifted. ‘The hares reported that the herd is by the Mkondo River,’ she announced. This was not new to me, I had heard the report myself. But I still listened carefully.‘So, that’s where we’re going to go. I want everything to be efficient and clean. No funny business.’ For once, my mother was not open to any new ideas or experiments. ‘We circle the herd,’ she continued, ‘and seek out the one we’re looking for. It’s male, and it will have scratches down its flanks.’ I nodded, my tail swishing from side to side as I protracted and retracted my claws. At my side, Ntulivu, then a young huntress who had participated in more hunts that I, turned to look at me.
“‘Excited?’ she inquired smoothly, her deep green eyes amiable.
“‘Of course,’ I told her with a shrug. ‘This time, I can really participate. I’ve got a position and everything.’ She dipped her head tranquilly, which irritated me for some reason. ‘Why, aren’t you?’
“‘It’s our duty to bring back food for the pride,’ she told me as we walked forward, following the older lionesses. ‘I always like watching the little ones eat- the two new cubs, Fahari and Magharibi, are beginning to try solid food now.’
“‘So. . . yes?’ I responded.
“‘Enough chattering back there,’ called Uzoefu. I glanced up and realized that the Mkondo River was not far ahead. And beside it, bold as anything, was the cape buffalo herd. The wind was blowing their scent towards us- something I knew was a good sign- and their heavy, meaty aroma filled my nose, along with the stink of their dung. As we covertly approached, the various tawny-brown shades of our fur made us blend into the long, dry grass. I searched the herd eagerly, wanting to be the one to spot our target.
“‘I see him,’ Ntulivu declared quietly. The others turned to her, and she gestured with her head. ‘To the left, not far from the zebras.’
“Laaniwa, Ntulivu, I cursed my pridemate silently. There went one of my chances to make Uzoefu proud. Oh, well, I told myself. There’s still the hunt. That’s when she’ll really be watching.
“My mother gazed at the bull, her gray-green eyes stretching wide. ‘By all the spirits,’ she whispered- and by that, I mean spoke with the same volume as a regular lion’s voice- ‘he looks even bigger than he did the last time we saw him. And get an eyeful of those horns.’
“‘He has to be the dominant bull,’ one lioness agreed fervently.
“I observed our quarry. He was massive. Dark brown in color, with beady black eyes and a huge set of broad horns. Even from here, with the fading glow of the sun I could see the fresh scratches on his flanks made by our now-deceased pride member. My claws ground into the dust.
“Uzoefu continued to lead us forward on silent paws. Despite the fact that we were all participating in this hunt, we made no sound as we followed her. By now, I was bursting with anticipation, hardly able to hold still. We drew closer still, and everyone crouched, preparing to sprint, waiting for Uzoefu to make the first move. There was a heartbeat of charged silence. Then my mother shot forward, surprisingly graceful for a lioness of her size, and flung herself at the buffalo’s back, wrapping her claws around its neck. I dashed after her, springing at the buffalo’s head. I had, as I’d told Ntulivu, been given a position: grasp the creature’s legs and hold on. But what I hadn’t told her was that I didn’t plan to follow it.
“My teeth ripped at the animal’s nostrils, tearing through the soft flesh. The bull shook its great head from side to side with a muffled, drawn-out call. None of the herd members responded. Unfortunately for him, it was mating season, and he’d driven the other bulls far away from his mate. There was nobody to help him. I clung on desperately, trying to shape my teeth around the buffalo’s snorting mouth. A particularly violent jerk of his head sent me sprawling, and Ntulivu, dutifully clutching one of our opponent’s forelegs in her teeth, released her hold and yanked me to my paws before the huge, heavy hooves could trample me. I gasped my thanks, and lunged for the buffalo’s muzzle once more, ignoring my mother’s bellow of ‘No, Badilifu!’ She wouldn’t have minded if I had disobeyed her in a different, less dangerous way, but I knew she hated me getting so close to those deadly horns.
“Though I was swifter this time, I was not fast enough. Unexpectedly, the bull barreled forward despite the lionesses that were gripping him. The movement was enough to force them to drop their holds, and the animal charged quickly away, seemingly oblivious to his many wounds. With a snarl, Uzoefu hurtled after him, with myself and the others following, prepared to pounce again. But the bull was a clever one, and he suddenly whirled around, catching Uzoefu mid-leap. Those wide, pointed horns ripped the skin of her underbelly away as easily as shredding a leaf. There was a spray of red, and our golden-furred leader was thrown violently backwards, hitting the ground with a thud. The bull kept charging at us, and while the others backed away, teeth bared, myself, Ntulivu, and a third lioness; Mwandani, turned our back on the buffalo and rushed to Uzoefu’s side. She wanted panting, her wound expelling large quantities of blood, staining the pale grass red- and not just blood, I realized, with a sickening surge of horror. I wanted to look away, to run away, to rejoin the fight and forget that this could happen, was happening. I was not usually remotely shaken by violence or gore, but this was something else entirely.
“Instead of fleeing, I crouched by my mother’s side. I didn’t ask Mwandani if anything could be done. The older, experienced lioness was gazing at Uzoefu with pain in her eyes, but no hope.
“’Badilifu,’ gasped Uzoefu, blood streaming from her lips. She looked into my eyes, her own pair blazing like a resilient fire. ‘You’ve made me proud, but don’t you stop,’ she ordered hoarsely. ‘I’ll still be here, so ma-’ Before she could finish her sentence, she was cut off by a gush of blood into her throat. I bent my head, preparing to nuzzle her face one last time.
“‘Move!’ a panicked voice cried. I heard thundering hooves, urgent pawsteps. It all sounded very far away. Mwandani threw herself against me, knocking me to the ground, away from Uzoefu. I parted my jaws to protest, my eyes still on my mother’s body, but the words died in my throat as I watched it trampled and crushed with a repulsive crunching sound under the buffalo’s horned feet. The bull turned, its beady eyes still furious with bloodlust. But gazing at our shocked hunting party, he seemed satisfied. I heard him speak three words as he turned and strutted away.
“‘Serves you right.’
“By then, wasn’t numb, or in shock, or overcome with emotion. I only felt hatred. I turned towards the buffalo, who was arrogantly moving away from us and the other buffalo, his mate trailing behind him, perhaps searching for fresher grazing grounds. Everyone had turned to Mwandani, her having seen more hunts than the rest of us, waiting for her decision. She hesitated, then spoke.
“‘Pridemates, there is no way to compensate for the loss we have sustained, but one thing we cannot do is try and kill this buffalo. He is too dangerous. I propose that next time, we bring the males along with us. They are stronger and . . .’ Her voice faded away as I discreetly broke away from them and began to slowly but surely pursue the buffalo. He did not notice me, and neither did they. I crept forward, increasing my pace but not running. My gaze was focused intently on his robust, dark shape, noting where he had been struck by the others. He was walking at a leisurely pace- he did not expect us to take him on again. In a way, he was right. We would not. I would. I continued stalking the bull, trying to keep my tail from lashing with fury, until I was close enough to strike.
“I broke into the same sprint my mother had when as she had led us forward, rapid and sudden. My claws sank into the flesh of his back and I tore a large chunk away with my teeth, provoking a bellow of agony. He turned and met my gaze wrathfully, then stumbled, seemingly staggered by the vindictive conviction that I knew must be present in my eyes. He blundered forward, and my grip slipped, abling him to violently kick me away. I was airborne for a single stunned second, then I smacked onto the grass. I paused to regain my breath, panting, the ground twisting and spiraling around me, but I could see enough to sight the huge, dark shape that was galloping away from me. Suddenly, I realized that I was not alone. My fellow huntresses were loping towards me, some looking irate, others concerned. Ntulivu reached me first, her emerald eyes glittering understanding. She did not speak, but helped me to my paws once more. I backed away, flattening my ears, as the pride converged around me. ‘Badilifu, I know this must be hard,’ Mwandani began quietly. I was in no mood for her meaningless platitudes.
“‘Save it,’ I snapped, cutting her off. ‘Look here and listen; this is how it’s going to go down. I’m going to keep following this buffalo. One of us is going to die. You’ll figure it out. The one thing you won’t do is stop me.’ Mwandani’s ears, too, were pressed against her skull, but she took a step back. She was no leader, no fighter. The rest of the pride waited with bated breath. I simply turned and resumed my pursuit. Then I heard Ntulivu’s voice.
“‘We’re a pride. We fight as a pride.’
“The lithe forms appeared at my side- chocolate brown, pale russet, tawny, orange, golden. Their eyes seemed to glow in the darkness that was spilling over the Drylands. Ntulivu’s words hung in the air, for nobody else spoke. We continued forward, nobody moving past me. I locked my eyes on the buffalo once more.
“In what seemed like no time at all, it came the moment to make the sprint. My legs were worn out, my head was aching, and I knew my pridemates must feel as exhausted as I. This was to be done fast and done with. With a slight start, I realized that they were waiting for me. With a soft growl, I plunged forward.
“It took me only three strides. I flung myself at my hated quarry, and he, perhaps having been expecting me to attempt to take his a third time, turned to meet me with his horns, having heard my breakneck approach. I ducked my head, gripping his in my forepaws. My hind paws scrabbled at his throat, but my primary focus was my jaws, which I snapped around his muzzle as I had the first time. He managed to tear it free, ravaged nostrils spritzing blood over my face, and swung his head forcefully. This time, I did not fall, but instead reached out with one forepaw, sinking my claws into one of his broad shoulders. I pulled the rest of my body onto his back, glimpsing Mwandani’s wiry silhouette, present at his rear, tearing at his lower flanks. Just as Uzoefu had done, my legs stretched around his neck. I strained, scratching as his throat, tightening my hold on him, and heard his ragged attempts to suck in air. With a roar-like rumble, he staggered and fell to the ground.
“I didn’t leap away in time, and my lower half was crushed by his unmatched weight. I felt my bones begin to crack, and with a snarl I jerked them away. One hoof flashed out, making contact with my already bruised head, and stars burst in front of my eyes. Only one thing kept me on my paws now, and that was the image of my Uzoefu’s shattered, broken body. With this visual burned into my mind, I stalked towards the thrashing buffalo, who was beginning to rise to his hooves despite the lionesses slashing at and clutching him. Just before a pounced, another memory took place in my head; the sight of my mother just before she was killed, blood and innards spilling from the gash in her underbelly. With a deep, guttural roar, I sprang at the buffalo, sliding under his now-standing mass and reaching upwards with my claws and teeth. I felt myself doused in warmth, and quickly darted out from under the beast as I heard him give a final, agonized groan.
“He hit the ground for the last time with a dull, heavy thud that made the ground tremble. For me, I didn’t stop trembling. It began to sway. I remember feeling my face curl into a grim but triumphant smile before I blacked out.”
By the time Badilifu finished the story, her moss-colored eyes were very far away. She glanced down at my with a slight start, coming back to the present.
“Wasn’t too tough a tale for you?” she inquired of me, raising her eyebrows. I shook my head. The story, however grisly, had to have been one of the most intense that I’d heard yet.
“No, Badilifu,” I answered. “I’m afraid that all I have to say is that it’s clear how you came to be the lead huntress, and it’s no sheer luck that you were given the position.” She looked slightly startled.
“Well,” she muttered finally. “I don’t doubt you’ve got some impressive things in store for yourself, cub.”
In order of mention: