Ravens’ Cry: the Lion who Gathered Lions

The Lion Who Gathered Lions

The greatest fighters of our age and ages past are always remembered, but those they fought and defeated never are.  No one wonders to where those valiant, if vanquished, foes disappear after their lives are spared for coming so close to victory.  But I know, and soon you will, too.  Indeed, the whole world will know, all too soon.

“Toro, toro,” the man shouted, waving his golden flag.  The lion halfway across the arena pawed the dust, staring at the man, whose size seemed magnified in the lion’s eyes by the colorful feathers on the back and sleeves of the man’s costume, and by the flag he was waving so vigorously.  No brute beast, this lion had champions on both sides of his lineage, generations of gladiator lions bred for maximum intelligence, size and brutality.  He began to circle the fighter, spiraling slowly closer, as the man spun in his place, staying always front toward the lion, flag waving.

The lion charged.  As he ran, motion slowed for both momentarily.  Only when the man could see the slobber and smell the breath from the lion’s mouth did he sidestep slightly from behind his golden flag.  The lion charged through the now empty fabric, the man let go and stabbed with his sword, with short, efficient strokes, aimed first to slice muscle in the lion’s leg, then to draw blood from the lion’s flank.  Both the crowd and the judges liked to see blood, so once the fighter knew the lion’s movements were crippled, he pulled from a tendon the sword and slashed into his side with a spurt of crimson color.  The lion, still entangled in the heavy flag, buckled his back leg where the sword had sliced him.  He limped along with his momentum, then sprawled on the arena floor, sliding into the wall, bleeding deeply.

The man walked–  with his back straight, hiding his own wounds as best he could– toward the beast and took his stance for the killing blow.  But the crowd began to chant, raising their voices till the judges themselves turned and nodded to the fighter, who quickly sheathed his sword and faced the crowd.  He bowed again and again, as they threw flowers and compliments into the arena at his feet.  Soon, the judges announced the score– 8.8, the highest of the fighter’s career.  His fans stormed from their seats down to the sand and lifted him in their arms, carrying him aloft out of the arena, to the celebratory feast.

The lion licked his side, no longer the bristling, angry warrior, but a pained and scarred, grieving veteran, glad to be still alive.  The arena attendants muzzled the beast, then cleaned his wounds, set his leg in a splint, and released him into the wilderness outside the city.  Homeless and hungry, injured and aching, the lion wandered the wilderness.  He could not run, but it did not matter, for he had no hunting skills.  He had been fed every day of his life by breeders, then trainers, then attendants for different arenas across the continent, where he had defeated fighter after fighter, until today.  He had no pride, taken from his mother shortly after weening from her, and separated from his siblings soon after that.  So he wandered the wilderness, homeless and hungry, injured and alone.

For five days he ate nothing, until he found the last remnants of a yak carcass.  He scared away the hyenas, and set to eating everything left, then chewed and cracked the bones to suck away the marrow.  Such would be his fate for the rest of his life.  The gladiator fans– safe in their cities– neither knew nor cared.  They spared the great lions’ lives, then lost interest entirely.  Even the breeders did not want him, long ago had they harvested his seed.  Such would be his fate, had it not been for the lion who gathered lions.

More hungry weeks pasted before the lion smelled something familiar.  It was human blood.  He raised his nose in the air and and followed the scent till he came to a hollow surrounded by hills and caves.  There was a man whose legs were freshly bleeding stumps, pulling himself feverishly along the ground.  When he saw the lion, he let out a soft wail, and began to crawl in the other direction.  Another lion emerged from a cave, and again the legless man changed direction.  A female lion, and then another male appeared to block the man’s progress.  The first lion was unwilling to share his new found delicacy, so he growled at the three other lions, then slunk low along the ground toward the helpless human.  The other lions sat back on their haunches and purred a satisfied acceptance.  The first lion pounced, knowing from experience in twelve deadly combats exactly where to sink his claws and teeth to kill quickly and without a sound.  As he ate, more lions–males, females, cubs– appeared around the hollow from the caves.  But whenever they made to approach, the first lion would spasm into ferocious growling and clawing, and the incendiaries would back again away.

At long last, the man was nothing but bones.  While the lion sat next to the carcass, sucking away the marrow, an ancient lion of enormous girth strode confidently forward, a femur bone in its mouth.  When the first lion began to roar and scratch, the old lion smacked his paw against the other’s head, pinning him with incredible speed.  The old lion held the newcomer there until he stopped squirming, then dropped the femur on the other’s neck, turned and returned to his cave halfway up the hill.

Some old gambler, deep into his drink, may tell you the legend of a lion that fought over half a century ago, winner of over sixty matches, till finally no new fighters would face him.  This lion was given a hero’s parade through the streets of six cities, fans slipping bones through the bars of his cage.  Then he was retired– still undefeated– and released into the wilderness.  Seven champions were spawned from his seed, three of them saved by the crowd and released.

These very three paced up to the newcomer, who was now chewing on the delicious and flavorful femur bone.  They circled around him, noticing his wounds and his scars of combat.  Then stopped circling.  The newcomer dropped his bone, now quietly alert.  One of the three walked slowly up to him, and they began to wrestle.  After a few moments of intense battle, the aggressor ceased his attacks, lost interest, strode back to join his brothers.  As the newcomer stood growling, a second of the brothers waded forward and challenged the lion to wrestle.  Again, in the middle of the fight, the second brother simply stopped, returned to his brothers.  Only then did the third brother attack.  They wrestled for a few minutes, then he too ceased.  The three brothers began to roar, and the entire pride– almost two dozen lions, a full ten of them retired gladiators– began to roar back.  The cubs scurried forward and rubbed their faces against the new lion’s shanks, sticking him with their youthful scent.  The lion slowly began to realize that he had been tested, and was now accepted.  He was home.

For the next three years, he lived with his new pride, eating when they ate, sleeping when they slept, mating with the females when they were in heat.  Soon, his leg began to heal, and gradually he tested it with more and more of his own weight.  Then he was running across the savanna with his comrades, not quite as fast as before, and with only the slightest limp.

One day the lion was preparing to sleep when he noticed that no other lions were in the cave, except the youngest cubs.  He went outside, and the whole pride was sitting in the hollow of the hill, waiting for something.  The three brother lions paced through the crowd, sniffing for a sign of blood or injury in the group.  Finally the ancient, undefeated lion emerged from his cave, high up on the hill.  This rare occurrence explained the pride’s assemblage.  The old lion’s three sons approached him, and all four began to growl.  The low, throaty tone was soon picked up by the group, till the whole pride of twenty-five lions was roaring with the full strength of their mighty lungs.  The ancient lion then strode down the rest of the hill, through the middle of the assembly, and out of the hollow.  The three brothers followed, then the rest came after.  As they began to run across the plains of wilderness, the lion felt vaguely like he had seen this terrain before.  And he had.  The pride of two dozen was running straight toward the city.

It was the blackest time of night when the lions reached the outskirts of the city, the hovels of beggars and the rundown residences of the very poor.  At first, many of the pride slowed, pawing around the shacks for prey, but the ancient lion and his three sons continued at full pace, straight toward the center of the city.  Those who had slowed had no choice, they must run with the rest, or be left behind.

Soon, the buildings began to show the signs of prosperity.  Gone were the one room hovels, replaced by multistory houses, opulent office buildings and grandiose municipal compounds.  Only here did the ancient lion slow.  The streets were still empty.  It was too late for the barflies and drunkards, who had long ago left their watering troughs for home and bed, and still too early for the farmers bringing fresh goods to market.  They were there, in the very heart of our city, paws padding on its pulsing throat.

Then one by one the humans appeared, milkmen, paper boys, farmers.  Each reaction was the same: a scream of terror, a wild sprint towards safety– followed by capture and execution.  Every scream would awaken a block of additional humans, many of whom were foolish enough to venture outside, only to find certain death at their doors.  They were spread across ten blocks now, the lions– ex-gladiators and wildcats full grown.  The whole city was waking up to find the streets besieged.  A full company of militiamen appeared, armed with swords and halberds.  The wildcats slunk away from the stinging blades of their weapons, but for the gladiator lions, this was a return to the glories of their youth, the blood, the pain and the thrill of killing.  These men were not practiced lion fighters.  They did not stand a chance against these monsters, who were bred and trained as killing machines.  They crumpled and fled before the jaws and claws of the beasts, who pursued them and tore them to shreds.

A great balloon drifted over the mayhem.  It would descend to earth, and the men aboard would lash out against a group of lions, then float high above their attacks.  Men with muskets arrived, and the lions finally began to fall in numbers.  Five units marched from street to street, gunning down the beasts with two syncopated rows of gunmen– one row would fire, then load, allowing the next row to step past them and fire.  Then first row would once again step forward to fire.

The ancient one, alone, pawed up to the arena– high on a hill in the center of the city– and surveyed the slaughter.  He seemed pleased with the terrible vengeance he had reeked upon this city of men.  Only when lines of musket men approached him from two sides, did the oldest, undefeated lion, his back against the wall of the arena, fight again.  Here, at last, was a worthy foe, a pain he could feel through his thick layers of scar tissue.  A broadside of musket balls ripped through his flesh, but he still barreled into one unit and took nine lives, before they shot him down– on his mouth the dreamy grin of a long-sought death in battle.

The few remaining lions immediately fled back across the city into the wilderness, among them the youngest of the three brothers.  He is waiting out there now, waiting to strike, once again gathering lions.

 

 

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