"Tell me how you came to be in Lyon, France." I said.
His gaze drifted from the glint of sunlight on the waves to meet my quiet countenance.
Looking into his eyes is like staring into the deepest blue part of the sky, and trying to see the place where the light fades into dark space... knowing that beyond what you can see lies a vast place, boundless and completely incomprehensible... filled with beauty and wonder.
His voice was soft and solemn. "I was in Nyeri, Kenya. I was visiting the children at Tumaini, most of them are orphans whose families have perished from AIDS. Some of the most beautiful blossoms in my mane are from these children. One night, after we had run and laughed and played all day, rest had finally overtaken us... tired and happy. As the stars passed over head, sparkling in silence, something else passed. The shadow of an elusive hunter caught only by the moonlight. I don't know how he captured me, I only know that when I awoke I was laying in a small cage in the dark and enclosed back of a truck... headed west... away from the horizon of Nyeri.
I tried to move, to stand in the cage, but it was so small that I could not get up; there was only enough room for me to lay on my side. I assume this was so I could not crouch to pounce, it put me at quite a disadvantage. I could see the sky out of the back of the truck, but that was all. I watched that patch of sky for what seemed like hours, trying to determine my direction and probable distance. Africa can be a dangerous place, knowing where I was would help me in escaping.
As it turned out, when the truck stopped, I knew immediately where I was by the smell of the air. A tarp was thrown over the cage to block light and view, but the scent of the air by Victoria Lake is unmistakable. I was about 160 miles west of Nyeri. I heard voices speaking in hushed tones... there was an exchange of some valuable item, and the hunter gave me over to the chief of the Kilmuseri tribe. As soon as the cage was opened, both my left front and left rear legs were clapped in irons and I was chained to a huge tree. The members of the tribe would not come near me... they stared with wide eyes from behind surrounding trees.
I asked for water... my thirst was terrible, but my voice and speaking ability terrified the tribal members and they ran. The saying goes, 'ask and ye shall receive'... and this time was no exception. The end of the rainy season there closed with a thunderous downpour of torrential rain for three days straight. I had no shelter, save the tree that I was chained to, but it's canopy gave some relief. On the third day, late in the afternoon, the chief of the tribe came to see me.
"Why am I here?" I asked. He sneered at me. "You are here because you have something I want." I watched him carefully, his cold greedy eyes moved over my body. "What do you want?" I wasn't sure I really wanted to know. He leaned in almost close enough for me to reach... and said in a low voice, "I want your skin... as a robe, and your head as my headdress."
Fury ran through me like a bolt of lightening, "You will never have it!" I roared with such force that he careened to the ground, landing on his back. Trapped though I was, I went for him with all that was in me.
I was filled with such rage when I ran for the chief that the powerful force of my leap snapped the chains that bound me. As I was about to reach him, the tribal warriors surrounded me, yelling and shoving spears into my face and lancing my body with the biting steel tips of their weapons. The chief jumped to his feet and ordered them to stop... and they pulled back only enough for me to circle and growl fiercely at them. "I will kill him tonight when the moon rises!" he called out to all of them. I knew I had to leave at that moment, before they locked my chains again. I looked for the smallest warrior and leaped straight for his head. He panicked and ducked, but as I arced over his body, the man next to him drove his spear into my left front leg."
Viaggiatore looked down at the wound on his leg. I've dressed it and wrapped it since he's been here, and my cousin, Dr. T. Lyon in Pittsburgh, gave us some helpful tips in making it heal quickly. I continued scratching his back, and he continued his story.
"The pain was excruciating, but I kept running until I could not hear them very well. I was able to pull the spear head out with my teeth, but my leg was bleeding and I knew I wouldn't be able to travel very far without resting. I decided to head to Mt. Elgon, just north of Victoria Lake. I thought I could hide in Budadiri forest, at the base of the Ugandan side of the mountain, and rest for the night. I had just reached the edge of the trees there, when I heard a noise and saw the tribal chief only 30 meters behind me. I ran into the forest and he chased... I knew he'd have a hard time hunting me there.
I made it to Sipi Falls, and thought he couldn't have followed me that far, and if he had, he wouldn't be able to hear me because the crash of the falls is so loud. He didn't see me, but I saw him and thought I'd be better off leaving than hiding. My leg was swollen by this time, and my fur was caked with blood. The pain had reached my shoulder, and I knew I couldn't go far, so I went a short way up the mountain to Kitum cave and finally found my saving grace there, under the most unusual circumstance.
It is the habit of the elephants and other animals that live on and around Mt. Elgon, to go into the caves there at night to lick the salt from the walls. As a matter of consequence, they have literally dug their way into the mountain some 200 meters with their tongues. On that night, a large herd of elephants had gathered and when I came into the cave, they welcomed me and offered a restful quiet place in the back of the cave, and safety in their midst. I was so exhausted that sleep found me immediately. The chief also found me, I learned, when a bird came to report that he was making his way through the lush vegetation toward us. The herd of elephants grew furious and what started as a blockade at the mouth of the cave turned into a full blown stampede down the side of the mountain... right on the heels of the chief... all the way to Budadiri forest.
I slept soundly through the dark hours and in the morning a small rabbit asked if she could take me to the top of the mountain, which is actually a dead volcano. In the crater at the top are hot springs which she said would help heal my wound. We were able to go slowly and I spent a day in the healing waters of those hot springs. When the afternoon sun started sinking into the wavering heat of the African landscape, I made my way down the Kenyan side of Mt. Elgon, and when I reached the bottom I ran north, wounded and slow, into the night."
That is as far as we got, because some friends came to visit. We've had many visitors over the last few days, and it's been nice to see them. Viaggiatore has had the opportunity to see some of his brothers, and he enjoyed it very much. I will ask him about the rest of the story in the next day or two, when he looks as if he's feeling up to talking about it.
Thank you for visiting, we look forward to seeing you again.
Scarlett & Viaggiatore