The air held the scent of her prey as she crouched in the darkness, her three foot long tail curled around her right side. She waited silently, patiently lulling her prey, a young male zebra grazing alone, into a false sense of security. Why it was out alone, she didn’t question, just thankful she would be able to kill and return it to the village for food. She took shallow breaths as each muscle in her body tensed, like a tightly wound spring that was ready to pop when she caught another scent, human. The sound of an approaching engine and the strange illumination of headlights spooked the zebra and it ran off into the distance. There goes my dinner. She thought regretfully.
Incensed at her prey’s hasty retreat, she slowly turned to where the noise and light came from. Thirty meters or so in the distance, she spotted a human male. He was sitting alone in the jeep that came to a slow stop as he wiped the sweat from his brow with a red bandana. He held a map in one hand and a flickering flashlight in the other. His smooth pale skin and glowed eerily in the light of the flashlight and his sweat soaked curly blonde hair clung to the sides of his face and neck. She inched closer, sniffing the air as she studied him. His scent, a light musk, was pleasing and seemed familiar to her. His hazel green eyes looked confused as he studied the map he held tightly. He had to be lost; he was twenty miles from any of the roads, deep in the Sehki lion’s pride territory. His fear and frustration were so thick, she could practically taste it. She observed quickly that he was no hunter; he had no weapons from what she could see. He wasn’t a threat to her well, other than spoiling her dinner.
Why doesn’t he carry anything to protect himself with? He’s a sitting duck, the fool, if I actually liked the taste of human flesh. She shook her head in disbelief thinking this man must have a death wish or he was crazy. Why else would he be out here alone with no protection?
Leonessa inched a bit closer when she felt the presence of two of her sister lionesses as they approached the area. They also spotted the human, whom they would surely kill for sport and food. Finding and killing a human was a prize to her village, a sort of retribution for the human hunters who had killed her kind for sport over the centuries. However, this man was not a hunter and something about him moved her, from his scent to his gentle looking eyes. She acted without thinking of the repercussions as she let out a warning roar to the other lions, making her way to the terrified human who began to wave his flickering flashlight nervously about him in the darkness.
She could hear his heart pounding; smell his fear and sweat as it dripped down his face and chest. He tried to start the jeep, flooding it in his haste. He panicked and cursed as Zabari, despite the warning roar, continued her pursuit of the human, striding curiously closer behind him in the darkness, her tail switching eagerly behind her. Keri, the other lioness, ran off as Leonessa padded in front of the jeep on four powerful legs and roared once more.
Zabari’s focus remained on the human male, but his was now on the large female lion before him. He blinked in disbelief as he noticed something different about this lioness; her eyes were a cool blue color instead of the usually golden eyes of lions. He was unaware of Zabari as she stealthily inched closer behind him. Zabari and Leonessa have never particularly liked one another, but have hunted together many times. She was not thrilled at Leonessa trying to claim what she considered her prizeprey. Zabari loved human blood and flesh; it had been a long time since the sweetness of it touched her mouth and she salivated at the thought of tasting it once again. Unlike Leonessa, who never acquired the taste for human flesh, Zabari relished it. Many humans did not travel out this way so she wondered what sort of game Leonessa was trying to play by interfering.
The man sat frozen in terror, eyes wide, unable to move as Leonessa jumped onto the hood of the jeep, looking over his shoulder at the lioness behind him. She let out a roar that seemed to echo in the darkness.
“N…n…nice kitty,” he stammered and swallowed hard. He summoned the courage to look her directly in the eyes; she was beautiful, strong, and proud. From what he knew of lions, they didn’t roar before an attack and he thought it strange that she would do so.
Lance closed his eyes in anticipation of being eaten but, Leonessa sprang over him as Zabari leaped for her attack. The two lions met in mid air and tussled to the ground, growling and biting. Leonessa bit into Zabari’s left shoulder, her weak spot from an old wound that didn’t quite heal, so she’d get the message. It forced a high pitched wail from her and she released her hold on Leonessa.
“Go home,” Leonessa growled.
“Ah saw im fohs!”
“Go home Zabari, this human is no hunter, there is no need to kill him,” Leonessa warned with a low growl, pressing her forepaw deeper still into Zabari’s shoulder causing her more pain.
“Ok Leonessa, a de go naw (I am going now)!” She winced. Her golden eyes gave Leonessa a defiant look. Though Leonessa was the pride king’s daughter, she wasn’t untouchable. Yu gbana (difficult) uman (woman), yu will regret this! She fumed to herself.
Leonessa stepped back and let Zabari get up, with one last look at the human; she limped away into the darkness. With Zabari gone, Leonessa turned back to the man who sat in the jeep staring wide eyed at her. He thought he heard the name Leonessa in the midst of the growling, snarling lions. Of course lions can’t speak, so he put it off as his imagination. The blue eyed lioness who won the match, turned to face him, blood dripped from her mouth.
“I…I suppose now you’ll eat me,” he whispered to himself. He kicked himself for not bringing a weapon. He been terrified to know there was another lioness behind him. He shivered; his breath shallow and his heartbeat erratic, his pulse was weak and rapid as he closed then opened his eyes in confusion.
Damn, he’s going into shock. Leonessa quickly assessed. He needed treatment, but in her lioness form, that would be impossible. Panting and near exhaustion herself, she moved slowly, cautiously to the side of the jeep and sat down on the cool ground, her front paws stretched lazily before her as she stared at him, willing him to slow his breathing. After a few moments, his breathing slowed and he continued to blink as he stared at the beautiful lioness. He was surprised that she didn’t move to attack him. Was she toying with him in some way or was she actually protecting him? The thoughts in his mind began to fade and the last thing he saw were those hypnotic ocean blue eyes looking up at him before his world turned to darkness.
Leonessa began to shift into human form; the golden fur receded as smooth dark brown skin took its place until she lay on the ground completely naked. The ground beneath her belly and breasts were cool. She stood up slowly, her muscles aching and sore from shifting and dusted herself off, wiping the blood from her mouth and chin. Her dark brown skin glowed in the soft moonlight. She strode quietly to the place where she’d hidden her clothing, khaki pants, black underwear and a white buttoned shirt.
She dressed quickly and returned to the jeep. The man sat slumped in the driver’s side. She touched the man’s face, lifting his head to look at him. His creamy white skin glowed in the moonlight; it was cold and clammy to the touch. He was still in shock and she needed to get him to the hospital right away, so she lifted him, ever so gently, and moved him into the back seat, laying him flat and elevating his legs to restore blood pressure. She loosened his clothing and used water from his canteen to wet his bandana, cooling him. He looked peaceful and handsome to her, as perfect as a sculpture in the moonlit night. She’d never seen him before, but his scent was unmistakably familiar. After making sure he was stable, she started the jeep effortlessly and drove him to the hospital in Freetown.
The hospital was quiet, the hour being so late. A few nurse’s aides were on staff and only one doctor. She parked his jeep outside and quickly carried him in. She placed him in a small private room she used to sleep in at times when it was too late to travel back to her village. After settling him onto the metal framed bed with a thin mattress, she began to clean him up. She stroked his face, chest and arms gently with a cool, wet cloth. His skin was soft and the cat within her wanted to strip him bare and lick his smooth skin that took on a slight tan in the dim yellowish light of the small room. She fought this feeling of course and prepared his arm for the IV needle, she thought surely he would awaken but he only stirred as she started the flow of the saline drip. She smoothed back his curly hair from his face and studied him. He was indeed beautiful with his eyebrows that were slightly darker than his hair, thick and full, his long lashes and slightly crooked aquiline nose. She paused at his mouth as she felt a strong urge to kiss his pink hued lips that were slightly fuller on the bottom, but she would never be so forward with a man and had never kissed one before.
Who is this man? She thought to herself as she leaned over him, listening to his heart with her stethoscope.
He stirred and awoke to a warm sensation that seemed to move over his body with purpose. He looked sleepily at the woman leaning over him, her concern for him evident on her face as she listened to his heart and lungs. He moved to touch her, but was stopped short by the IV. She looked up at him, smiling. He gazed for a moment at the captivating Caribbean blue eyes that stared back at him. Her dark brown skin was a magnificent contrast to her beautiful eyes. Her hair was black and she wore it in a natural afro style, with braids stemming from her forehead and stopping where the afro began, resembling a crown. Her dangling earrings were large and round and shimmered like mother of pearl. Her cheekbones were high and regal and he thought she was the most enchanting and most exotic looking woman he’d ever seen. He wanted to caress her lovely dark skin and hair, kiss her soft full lips, parting them with his tongue. He wanted to hold her, gazing into her lovely eyes as they beheld his.
“Where…where am I?” He finally managed to whisper.
“This is Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Freetown. I’m Dr. Leonessa Kamara, but you can call me Leonessa if you like,” she smiled at him. It was a smile that warmed him; he was intrigued and felt a stirring in his nether region. She spoke perfect English and her voice was soothing and calm. She looked too young to be a doctor but then he surmised that she must be an intern or medical student. She wasn’t wearing a lab coat, only a white button down shirt and khaki pants which showed off curves and round bottom nicely. She was there alone with him, with no older resident in attendance. Most resident doctors in America would never have given their first name or be caught without a lab coat unless they were a surgeon in scrubs. This country was so very different from his, but if they had doctors who looked like Leonessa, he would be at the hospital everyday!
“Leonessa…that is a beautiful name,” he whispered his voice raspy from dryness. He could have sworn he’d heard that name before, maybe in a dream he thought. He’d been out for hours and yet his eyes locked onto hers in a stare that threatened to lay bare her soul. She looked away quickly placing the stethoscope around her neck and placing her hands nervously inside her pants pocket.
“Tenki, (thank you). I see you are American, would you like me to contact the U.S. Embassy mister….?”
“Lance, Lance Harrold, and no darlin that won’t be necessary,” he gave her a weak but sincere smile.
“Is there anyone we can contact for you, a friend, wife or employer?”
“No, I’ll call my group leader later. Say, how did I get here in the first place?”
“Well Mr. Harrold, you were in shock and passed out when I found you a few miles north of here on my way to the hospital. I brought you here and treated you. You should be fine with some rest and fluids and may leave the hospital tumara, (tomorrow),” She assured him with a slight pat on his arm. He covered her hand with his and his touch vibrated through her body, a feeling she’d never felt before. She pulled away quickly as if his touch had stung her.
Ignoring her reaction, he sighed. “I had the most incredible dream, or maybe it wasn’t, this lioness, I thought she was going to attack me, but she protected me from another lion. She had the most unusual eyes…I could have sworn they were blue….”
“Mr. Harrold,” she interrupted him gently, “you were suffering from shock and dehydration, you were delirious and it isn’t unusual to become confused. I can assure you there are no lions near the area where I found you, they are only found in Kilimi National Park, a large wildlife reserve. As for a lion with blue eyes, well, I’ve never heard of such a thing. Perhaps you should just rest now. I put your shirt, watch and keys in the chair next to the bed. Your jeep is outside and though it sounds like an interesting dream, if you will excuse me, I have other patients to attend,” she smiled warmly.
“Of course doc, you know speaking of eye color, your eyes sure are pretty if I may say so myself. Do blue eyes run in your family?”
Leonessa blushed and caught her breath before quickly straightening her composure, “tenki, but you really should rest now Mr. Harrold, I will check on you later.” She avoided his question as she couldn’t explain the nature of her eye color to him. The truth is she didn’t know herself. She’d never been asked directly about them by any of the local humans. Most assumed she was of mixed heritage. Everyone in her village had tawny golden eyes, including both of her parents. Many of the villagers thought she had been cursed by their enemies, but the wise old crone woman, Panthera, who delivered her, told them that she was marked by the goddess of waters, Mami Wata, for a special purpose.
“Leonessa?” he called to her softly, his voice barely above a whisper. The sound of her name on his lips hit her hard. She inhaled sharply as tsunami waves of shock and heat slapped through her nerve endings.
Why am I reacting like this? This feeling was new to her and she hadn’t even felt that way about her fiancé. Theirs was an arranged marriage of course, as is their custom and she’d only met him once at the betrothal ceremony a few months ago.
“Yes Mr. Harrold?” She turned briefly to him, her cool composure slowly slipping away.
“Tenki…for saving me Leonessa,” his smile was more confident, knowing.
He was passed out when I changed, wasn’t he? She wondered. His gaze was unnerving to say the least, but the man had been delirious, even if he saw anything, who would believe him in this condition? Her family has been living for centuries, hidden away from the humans and the hunters of the past hunted them as lions; never knowing they could take human form. Only one human knew of their secret, a registered nurse who worked at the hospital, Olivette. She was Leonessa’s best friend and her sister-in-law, the first and only human allowed to marry into the tribe after she and her younger brother were able to wear their father down.
“Oh…you’re quite welcome. Just…don’t venture out alone again, ok?”
“Ok, I’ll tell you what, how about you be my guide from now then?” he flirted as his hazel green eyes shimmered in the soft afternoon light coming from a nearby window.
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible Mr. Harrold, I’m much too busy. Have a good rest now,” Leonessa smiled and walked quickly toward the door. He was a very handsome man, but there was something in his eyes and his scent, his very voice that caused a deep stirring within her. She’d never reacted this way with anyone, human or shifter. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t been around human white men before, some had even flirted, but she had no interest in them. But Lance Harrold seemed different. She actually wanted to accept his invitation. What makes this man so special?
Ten years ago...
Leonessa chased her brothers along the lagoon and went swimming in her new one piece blue swimsuit her mother bought for her in Freetown. At the edge of the lagoon, Leonessa smelled something unusual. She peered through the tall grass and trees that separated the lagoon from the coastline of the Banana Islands. She saw a young boy around her age building something in the sand. She sniffed the air. His scent was unlike the others in the village and his skin, though tanned, was not dark like she or the others. His curly hair was light and hung wildly past his ears. He was shirtless and barefoot, wearing only olive green shorts. Leonessa became more curious by the second as she inched closer.
“Who’s there?” the boy stood suddenly, feeling as though he were being watched. He glanced at the trees and grass, he was sure something or someone was there.
Leonessa shrank back and quickly made herself invisible, afraid to answer. She didn’t know if this boy were an enemy or a friend. She watched him in silence, longing to touch his skin, run her fingers through his hair that looked softer than her own with its larger, looser curls, but she dared not leave from where she stood watching silently.
After a few moments of looking about and receiving no reply, the boy went back to building his castle. He soon became bored and decided to explore the nearby trees. He began to climb a low lying palm tree with great skill, right next to the one from where Leonessa was watching! He sensed movement, but again saw nothing. Leonessa held her breath, her heartbeat faster at being so close to him that she could reach out and touch him. He smelled of water and sand, but not of lion.
He must be a human. Leonessa thought to herself. Her mother and Panthera had told her of humans but she’d never seen a human before and his skin had the most unusual coloring. She thought surely everyone had the same dark skin as she and the people in her village. This boy was even lighter than her mother, whose light brown skin was lighter than anyone in the tribe. Still invisible, Leonessa stealthily followed the boy as he climbed higher in the tree. When he stopped short and turned, she nearly lost her balance but held on tightly to the tree.
“I know you’re there, I can hear ya breathing,” he said with a smile. He was even more beautiful when he smiled and to Leonessa’s surprise, she suddenly became visible.
“Kushe (hello),” she laughed. But the boy was so surprised to see her materialize before him that he fell backwards off the tree with a yell. He landed hard on his left ankle, breaking it before collapsing onto the sand. Leonessa scrambled down the tree as fast as she could and ran to him.
“A beg pardon (I’m sorry), yu ok?” Her blue eyes beamed at him.
“I’m ok…ow, ow…my ankle,” he said suddenly feeling a sharp pain as his hazel green eyes began to well up and big teardrops slipped down his face before he could stop them. He wiped them hastily, he felt afraid, embarrassed, as his ankle throbbed in pain. His father had told him he should never cry, especially not in front of girls. But when he looked into Leonessa’s eyes, his fear suddenly began to subside. She didn’t mock him for crying or look on him with pity, but with compassion. Leonessa stared at his tear stained face and thought him beautiful with his golden curly locks and green eyes that seemed to sparkle like jewels wet with more tears that welled up and threatened to fall. She immediately turned her attention to his ankle that was beginning to swell and looked somewhat deformed.
“Ah ken ep, yu trus mi?” She gazed at him kindly speaking Krio.
He stiffened at the question not knowing who she was, but something inside him said to trust this strange, magical beauty that lay next to him in the sand. He relaxed a bit.
“Ok, what are ya gonna do?”
“Be still, OK?” She smiled reassuring him.
She placed his left leg gently across her lap and slipped off his sandal, holding her hands slightly above his leg, she closed her eyes and moved her hands back and forth, scanning his foot and ankle. It was something she watched Panthera do so many times before and begged Panthera to teach her. “Yu brek won bone, but Ah ken fix,” she opened her eyes and beamed at him before quickly setting his ankle back in place with a sharp snap.
“How do you know that…OW!” he yelped as the pain was worse than when he’d fallen. Leonessa held his ankle firmly as a cooling energy flowed through her small hands, in a few seconds, he felt better and the sharp pain became a dull ache.
“Yu need to stay off it fah a few weks,” She said trying to speak proper English like Panthera was beginning to teach her. She gently touched his foot with two fingers, feeling his pulse, which was strong and steady. She touched his toe and asked if he could feel it. He nodded yes. Leonessa smiled, “ken yu move yu toes?” He winced, but was able to wiggle them. She gazed at him with her biggest smile. He would be just fine.
“Wha…what are ya doing now?” He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as sweat slid down the sides of his face making him more sticky and hot despite the breeze that blew.
“I’m checking to make sure yu foot is OK. I’m going to look for sumtin to hold yu ankle in place while it heals and sum big sticks to ep yu waka (help you walk). A de kam (I’ll be back), OK?” She informed him before heading back through the tall grass into the lagoon. The boy just nodded, no longer afraid and fully trusting the young beauty that spoke Krio mixed with English. He learned the Krio language from one of the native geologists that worked with his parents, Mustapha Turay. He wished he were more fluent but was happy at the girl’s attempt to communicate despite their accents, his southern and hers Krio.
Leonessa returned a few minutes later with a medium sized bag on her shoulder and a small handmade mudcloth pillow with hand painted cowrie shells on it under her arm. On her head she balanced a small bucket of clear water. She set the bag and bucket of water down next to him before opening the bag and pulling out a roll of gauzy material. The pillow, which was just big enough to fit, was placed gingerly under his left foot and ankle and folded it up to support it. She then unrolled the gauzy material around the pillow to hold it in place, tying it securely at the top.
The boy watched in amazement, he’d never seen any girl his age like her. She seemed so grown up and knew exactly what she was doing. She even brought him a bottle of water to drink. She pulled out a small piece of handmade mudcloth and dipped it into the bucket of water and began to wipe his face, chest, arms and legs gently, silently as she had done with others who had been injured or were sick in her village. The boy blushed and looked away, allowing her to touch him. After a few moments of awkward silence, he began to feel a slight stirring in his shorts and he quickly and gently brushed her hand away. “I du so (enough).”
Leonessa simply nodded unaware of the effect she was having on him. She had been too preoccupied with bathing him to notice his reaction. She rung the cloth out over the bucket and gracefully folded it over the side to dry.
“Tenki, you are really awesome…for a girl that is,” he blushed slightly making his tanned face more of a reddish brown as he smiled warmly and Leonessa felt that smile down to her toes.
“Yu aw-sum too, fah a bobo (boy),” she giggled, having no clue what he meant, but she assumed it to be a compliment because he smiled again when she said it back to him.
“Wetin yu nem (What is your name)?” He asked shyly as he looked her over. She was such a beautiful girl, he just had to know who, or rather what she was. His first thought was maybe she was a mermaid or some other magical creature from the ocean because of her eyes.
“A nem Leonessa,” she held out her hand to him smiling sweetly at his attempt to speak her language.
“Mi gladi fo mit yu (I am happy to meet you), A nem Lance. So how did ya…you know, do that thing, up in the tik (tree)? How long were ya watching me?” he grinned with only a slight blush in his cheeks this time. Leonessa blushed, deeply embarrassed.
“Misef gladi fo mit you. (I myself am happy to meet you). A beg pardon, Ah neva see anwon like yu befo, Ah follow yu from de san san (sand) up to de tik. Ah wan be padis (friends).” She paused a moment, suddenly looking very serious. “But Ah can’t tell yu how Ah did it, it’s a secret. If anwon sabi (know), mi famili ken be in big trouble. Do yu promise not to tell wetin yu see mi do?” Her eyes held a hint of sadness and fear and Lance immediately regretted asking. He didn’t want anyone to hurt her and he certainly didn’t want her to be afraid.
“Oh sure, you saved my life after all, so your secret is safe with me,” he winked.
“Tenki, yu wan Ah take yu to yu mama and papa naw?”
“Oh no, I can manage, our camp ain’t too far from here,” he sighed. He didn’t think Leonessa should be exposed to anyone and thought it best she stay hidden from anyone who could cause trouble for her or her family. Leonessa looked at him and smiled. She seemed to understand his meaning as she said “ok” and helped him to stand. She gave him the two large sticks she cut into a ‘Y’ shape at the top to serve as make-shift crutches. He didn’t care what her secret was and he vowed then and there to keep her secret always. He felt a bond with her, this marvelous and strange young girl who helped him.
They agreed to meet again the next day at the same beach where he’d been playing. Only Lance did not return the next day and Leonessa thought she would never see him again. So she went back to the lagoon to help her mother and play with her brothers. But on the third day, Leonessa returned to the beach and found Lance sitting in the sand, a white hard splint on his foot which was propped up on a pair of wooden crutches, waiting for her. Once he spotted her, he waved her over and she ran to him. They played and laughed for hours as Lance taught Leonessa to how to build sand castles. They played hide and seek and Lance always found Leonessa, though she made herself invisible, he could sense her easily. Their difference in their skin color didn’t matter to them and they vowed to be best friends forever. Over the next four days, Leonessa would slip away from her brothers and meet Lance each day in secret, or so they thought. Someone was watching them from a distance, sighing happily, content to watch over the children as they played and saw to it that no one bothered them.
When it was time for Leonessa to return home to her village, she knew she could tell no one of her secret friend, Lance, except for Panthera, whom she truly trusted. Lance hugged Leonessa one last time, holding her close, feeling her heartbeat in rhythm to his own, and secretly vowed to himself to return again one day to make her his wife.
PASSION’S PRIDE: LEONESSA
Copyright: © 2010 Mahogany SilverRain