When Leah was finally able to stand again, Mala gave her the grand tour. She took her through the rocky cliffs to an open grass land, full of prey, Leah could see lionesses training other cubs. They were a little bigger than she was and they were all female except one. He had a tan pelt and a black tuft of hair on his head that was just starting to turn into his mane; he also had tufts of black fur on the tips of his ears. Leah watched as he sprang onto a field mouse, and held it in his teeth. She looked back at Mala, who was yammering on about the great places on their land where you could play in mud.
"Hey Mala, who are those guys?" Leah interrupted. Her friend stopped and looked at the training cubs.
"Oh those are the hunters in training." She answered, "we're too young to do that, but in a couple months that'll be us."
Leah shook her head.
"Wait Mala, I can't possibly stay here. It's nice don't get me wrong, but I have to get back to my home." She said quickly. Mala stared at her.
"Leah, you can't possibly think that you'll get home now, do you? You'd never make it through the desert, nobody does." she said. Leah looked up, past the lions in the grasslands. She could see the desert, the sand dunes rose out of the ground in the distance. Her ears dropped and she looked down at her feet. Mala was right; she'd never make it through a desert, not with her leg.
"Great, so I'm stuck here." Leah grumbled and sat down on her haunches. Mala sat down beside her.
"Hey, it's not that bad, we may be a disciplined group, but we're still a family. You'll like it here." She said, encouragingly. Leah wasn't so sure. She stood up and limped into the long grass of the field. A field mouse ran in between her legs and the grass started to rustle ahead of her. She froze and crouched down.
"I got it, girls!" a voice shouted.
"Huh?" Leah thought out loud. Suddenly something rammed into her, knocking her out of the long grass. The cub that had crashed into her was the male that she saw earlier; he landed a few feet sway, rubbing his paw on his head. He looked at what he hit with his deep blue eyes, once he realized what it was. He stood up quickly and hurried over to her.
"Oh, I'm sorry cub, I didn't see you there." He said, helping her up by putting his head under her body and lifting her to her three paws.
"Aw, that's fine, it was my fault really—" Leah started, but stopped when she met his eyes. They had a gentle light in them that seemed so inviting. Leah almost found herself blushing. He looked lean and tough, like he could take on a cape buffalo without breaking a sweat. He wasn't that much bigger than her, but she still felt so small compared to him.
"Your fur really blends into the grass, huh." He smiled. Leah snapped out of her trance.
"Really? I always thought that I stuck out like a sore thumb." She said nervously. His cobalt eyes studied her.
"Hmm, I don't think I've ever seen you before. What's your name?" he asked her. Leah was silent for a bit, but then answered.
"It's Leah." She squeaked. He chuckled good-naturedly.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Sefu." He replied. Leah smiled. Lionesses called his name. He rolled his eyes.
"Well, I've got to go, I'll see you around." He said cheerfully, and ran back into the grass. Mala walked up to Leah.
"Hey, Leah, I see you met the famous Sefu." She giggled. Leah didn't answer; she just stared at the spot where Sefu walked away. Mala waved a paw in front of Leah's face.
"Um, helloooo, earth to Leah?" Mala called. Leah shook her head and looked at her.
"Sorry, I zoned out." She said. Mala made a sly grin.
"Oh I see what's goin' on." She said smoothly, clicking her tongue and nudging Leah on the shoulder. Leah's eyes widened.
"No! I wasn't, I…" Leah trailed off. Mala laughed.
"Hey it's ok to have a crush, besides, I think everyone has a crush on that guy." she said, "but it doesn't matter, he's the future alpha, so he's going to be betrothed anyway."
Leah stared at Mala.
"Is he Kopa's?" she asked. Mala shook her head.
"No, he was just chosen by Kopa. The alpha doesn't have any cubs. He doesn't have a mate either." she answered.
After an awkward silence, Leah and Mala headed back into the rocky cliffs. As they made it back to the dens, Leah looked up at Kopa's den. He was still there up on the ledge, gnawing on the femur of the antelope he was given earlier.
"Man what is with that guy?" Leah muttered.
"You should show more respect, Leah, he is the alpha lion," Mala replied seriously, "He usually keeps his distance from the others, but he does come down from time to time."
"Why does he keep his distance?" Leah asked. Mala just shrugged. They turned to a lioness that was walking up to them; it was Chiku. She approached Mala and Licked the top of her head.
"You back for lunch?" Mala asked her mother.
"Actually, I was relieved of duty for the rest of the day." She replied. Leah backed away from them. Chiku looked at the nervous cub.
"I see you finally woke up." Chiku chuckled, "you don't need to be afraid, little one."
Leah stopped backing up, but she didn't come any closer. Mala trotted up to the cowering cub.
"It's ok, Leah, this is my mom. She's the one that found you on the river banks."
Leah stopped cowering. She stood up and tentatively limped to Chiku. The lioness leaned over to Leah, causing her to flinch, but Chiku only licked the top of her head.
"So you're a long way from home huh?" Chiku asked sadly. Leah nodded.
"Yeah, a very long way. I'm from the Pridelands." She almost whispered.
"I thought so." The lioness said gravely.
"Really? How did you know I was a pridelander?"
Leah was silent for a bit, and then she asked something.
"Will I ever see my home again?" Leah asked. Chiku hesitated, trying to find the right words.
"Well, I'm not sure to be honest. The alpha was quite persistent on having you trained to become a huntress, I don't know if he'd allow you to leave, that is, if you become a true member of the pride." Chiku replied. Leah was puzzled.
"A true member of the pride?" Leah asked. Chiku nodded.
"He will put you through a right of passage. A test to see if you are a worthy pride member. All newcomers go through this."
"And what is this test on?"
"I'm not one hundred percent sure, it will most likely be a test of strength or endurance, like a fight."
Leah swallowed hard. 'A fight? Strength? Endurance?' she thought fearfully, while looking at her crippled leg.
Chiku could see the fear in the cub's eyes.
"Don't worry Leah, it wont be for a while since you are still recovering." She said reassuringly. Leah shuddered, trying to get the worried thoughts out of her head, but she couldn't.
"But how am I suppose to do those things when I can barely run?!" Leah cried. Chiku couldn't answer, mostly because she had the same question in her head. Mala had an idea.
"I'll train you." She said. Leah stared at her like she had just said 'I just ate a boot'.
"Umm, how will you do that?" Leah asked slowly.
"I'll teach you how to keep your balance, and how to run, after all, I'm one of the fastest cubs in the pride." Mala replied. She could see the doubt in Leah's eyes, but she was determined to help her new friend. Leah shrugged.
"Well, I guess it's worth a shot." She said half-heartedly. Chiku smiled at the cubs as they smiled at each other. Leah looked back up at the alpha's cave, but surprisingly, he wasn't there anymore. All that was there was the femur that he picked clean. Mala cleared her throat, getting back Leah's attention.
"Well, we might as well get started, huh?" she said, walking away. Leah took one last glance at Kopa's den, and then followed Mala.
"Let's do this." She said.