Leona knelt at the watering hole to lap at the tepid, scummy water. She saw herself reflected in it, coat scruffy and eyes dull. This hadn’t been what she’d thought would happen, months ago, when she’d met a mouse and accepted his help in return for the relief of having the festering thorn drawn from her pad. She’d agreed at the time to spare his life, and those of his kind in return for the blessed relief from pain.
Now, half way through the dry season, with all the larger game fled to more prosperous ground, her pride was starving. She hadn’t thought, at the time, how much the tender little morsels of mouse, so fun to hunt and bounce on with both paws, were important to their diet. The cubs hunted a little already, mice mostly, and she felt guilty for allowing it, but she herself didn’t take part. And if the cubs didn’t hunt, they would have been dead already.
The last gazelle she’d felled had disappeared into the maw of her male, who lolled in the shade and gnawed a bone even now. If only she could hunt the mice, she would survive this season. But she couldn’t, and with her death the pride would dissolve. Her lion would chose another mate, and the first thing they would do together would be to snap the necks of the babies Leona had borne. Three roly poly balls of fluff.
She lifted her head from the waterhole and looked around. Nothing moving but dust on the wind. There seemed to be more dust and less vegetation than even last dry season. Every year it was worse. She was six now, a matronly lioness. This dry season would be her last. She sighed and panted in the heat.
She began her patrol, on sore pads. The thorn removed, her wound had healed, but now she was ranging so far for game that her pads were worn thin. She was a mile from the home acacia tree when a strange delegation barred her path. Five mice, all seemingly gray at the muzzle. She sniffed deeply. They smelled old, too. They flinched at her breath but didn’t run.
“What would you ask of me, now?” She growled.
“We want to ask you to hunt mice again.”
“What?” Leona sat abruptly, her rump hitting the ground with a thump. “I swore I would not eat another mouse.”
“We know.” the oldest was white to the eyes. “The mousling who assisted you was not a thoughtful being.”
“And? I gave my word, you know.”
“We will release you from that vow. Out population has swelled so that we are unable to find food for our children. Mouse families breed unchecked, and disease is on the rise. You will have noticed that there are less plants and more dust?”
“Yes, I thought that seemed to be so this season.”
“Our people are turning this veldt into desert. Without you hunting and keeping them in check, we all die. So, lioness, we ask you to begin hunting mice again. Will you do this?”
Leona looked down at them, so still and serious, waiting for her answer. Suddenly she understood why they were all grey-beards. She reached down and delicately seized one in her jaws. The others scattered, but didn’t get far. Her belly was full when she reached the spreading acacia tree in the warmth of dawn. She collapsed next to her sleeping cubs and fell deeply asleep, hope warming her as she digested many, many mice.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Tobie, http://misadventuresoftobie.blogspot.com/, thewritegirl challenged me with "Write about the mouse and the lion from the perspective of the lion." and I challenged Jurgen Nation (Anastacia), http://www.jurgennation.com, jurgen_nation with "Walking in the woods and surprising a mythical creature".