A ray of sunshine slipped through a slit in the stone, casting a warm orange hue on the walls of the den. The light fell gently over the golden lioness laying comfortably inside, making her stir from her slumber. Morning had come, but she didn’t want to rise yet. She had barely gotten any sleep through the night, and she had a good reason.
Instinctively, she felt for the little warm bundle that had robbed her of every moment of rest for the past few days. It should have been nestled safely against her womb. But finding it gone, her head whipped up in alarm and her bright brown eyes darted over every corner of the cave. It hadn’t gotten very far though. The tiny, one week old, copper colored cub had managed to crawl just a little ways towards the mouth of the den, his flimsy little back legs dragging behind him. His eyes were still firmly shut, but his sensitive nose was eager for new discoveries.
Still not quite over her scare, his mother quickly picked him up by the scruff of his neck and brought him back into the safety of her paws. Her son let out an outraged squeal, upset at having his adventure cut so short, and started screaming as loud as his little lungs aloud him.
“Oh, no, sweetie,” said the young lioness, attempting to calm her devastated son with kisses and nuzzles. “I’m sorry. You can’t go outside yet. Not until you’re big and strong. Then you can go wherever you want.”
The cub was inconsolable though, and his loud cries continued to boom in the small cave. The mother was at a loss of what to do. Her son cried a lot. He cried when he was cold, when he was hot, when he was hungry, when he was full. She could never seem to settle him down, never knowing how pacify him.
“Hush, now. It’s okay. I’m here.” Helplessly, she continued to nuzzle him, hoping it would soothe him back to sleep. That seemed like the only time when he wasn’t crying. She couldn’t help but whisper to herself, “I’m such a horrible mother.”
“Oh, don’t say that, Kiara!”
The Crown Princess of Pride Rock turned to the mouth of the cave. Her mother, Queen Nala, was looking in with a loving look in her eyes.
“This is your first cub, and you’re still very young,” she began as she made her way to stand next to her daughter. “The first thing that sets good mothers and bad mothers apart is how much they love their cubs, and I know that you love Jali with all your heart.”
Kiara smiled at her mother’s words, but then looked down at the still wailing infant and sighed. “Then why can’t I get him to stop crying? The other lionesses can always make their babies happy again when they cry.”
Nala laughed mildly and dipped her head to nuzzle her whimpering grandson. “All the cubs you’ve seen outside are a little older than Jali is now. Young cubs cry a lot. It’s their nature. And this little one is particularly vocal, that's for sure.”
Kiara nodded, grinning down at her son fondly. “He’ll be a chatter box when he’s older.”
“Yes, he will,” agreed Nala. “Try singing to him. That always calmed you down.”
The golden princess perked at the idea, and searched her memory for a lullaby. She settled for one her grandmother, Sarabi, used to sing to her. “I see the stars, the stars see me. I see the Kings, the Kings see me.”
Almost as if Kiara’s voice was laced with magic, the cub’s cries settled down as suddenly as they had started. He hiccupped once, and then buried his face into his mother’s fur, content and carefree once again. Both the queen and her daughter stared at the little ball of fur in mild astonishment. They looked at each other and grinned.
“Thanks, Mom,” said Kiara, still in disbelief that she was able to give her son peace with a simple lullaby.
Nala nuzzled her lovingly before answering. “Anytime, sweetheart.”
A tiny little squeak interrupted their moment, and they both looked down at little Jali. He was squirming about between Kiara’s paws, apparently making some great effort. Kiara leaned down to lick him, and her kiss seemed to give him the vigor he needed to accomplish his desire.
Slowly, his swollen eyelids were lifted away. After blinking a couple of times to accustom himself to the morning light, he tried to focus his blurry vision on the two creamy figures before him.
Kiara gasped in elation. “Mom, look!”
Nala smiled again at her daughter’s excitement. She was so proud, of both Jali and Kiara. Deep in her heart, she knew this little cub could not be in better paws. This milestone in Jali’s life, if anything, was proof of how good a mother he had.
Kiara was laughing with glee. Her son had opened his eyes for the first time. She couldn’t wait to show Kovu. He would be so happy.
Jali was still struggling to make sense the things he was seeing. His young mind raced like a storm as his sky blue eyes finally settled on Kiara’s smiling face. At seeing the one who had kept him so warm and safe for the whole of his short life, he gave a happy shrill and giggled as loudly as he had cried just a few moments before.
The young mother laughed along her cub. “He has your eyes, Mom.”