The Hare Who Would Not Be KingN
othing stirred on the African plains. The sun glared down and Hare crept inside the cool hollow of a baobab tree for his afternoon nap.
Suddenly he was wide awake. There was a boom, boom, booming in his ears. And it was getting closer. Hare peeped out from the tree nervously. Across the clearing the bushes snapped and parted, and out loomed a huge gray shape.
"Oh it's you!" said Hare irritably. "How can a fellow sleep with all your racket ?"
The rhinoceros squinted down at him short-sightedly.
"Greetings!" he bellowed in his slow way. "Tembo the elephant has sent me to fetch you to the waterhole. He's going to tell us who our new king will be. All the animals have voted."
"Oh fiddlesticks!" cried Hare rudely. "What do I want with a new king? He'll bully us from morning till night and make our lives miserable."
"Don't you want to see who's been chosen? asked Rhino.
"I know already," snapped Hare. "It will be that sly old lion, Kali. He has bribed all the other animals and promised not to eat their children if only they will vote for him."
Rhino didn't seem to believe Hare, and in the end Hare said,
"Oh very well, I'll come. But you'll see I'm right."
The sun was setting as Hare and Rhino reached the water-hole. All the animals had gathered there - giraffes, hippos, antelope, buffalo, warthogs, zebras, aardvarks, hyenas, mongooses, storks and weaver birds. When Tembo the elephant saw that everyone was there, he threw up his trunk and trumpeted. "Animals of the plains, I am proud to tell you that Kali the lion will be our new king. It is a wise choice, my friends."
The animals cheered. But Hare only sighed. "They'll soon see what a horrible mistake they've made."
Out on a rocky ledge above the water-hole strode Kali. He stared down at all his subjects and there was a wicked glint in his eye.
"You've made me your king," he growled, "and so now you'll serve me!" And then he roared until the animals trembled.
"My first decree is that you must build a palace to shade my royal fur from the hot sun," said Kali. "I want it here beside the water-hole and I want it by sunset tomorrow.
"My second decree is that every day you must bring me an animal for my supper. A king can't do his own hunting."
The animals nodded gloomily.
"And my third decree is, if you don't do as I say, I'll eat lots of you!"
The animals now turned to one another in horror. They had thought a king would be wise and protect them. But Kali only wanted to bully and eat them. As darkness fell, the unhappy animals slunk away into the bush.
But at dawn they were back at the waterhole, hurrying to build Kali's palace. There was much to do and little time.
All through the heat of the day the animals lugged and labored. Elephants lifted tree trunks for the pillars, crocodiles brought mud for the walls, giraffes collected grasses that weaver birds wove for the roof. None dared stop for a moment. Only hare did nothing. He hid inside a tussock of oat grass and watched as the fine thatched house rose up beside the water-hole.
The sun was just beginning to set as the weaver birds tied off the last knots in the soaring thatched roof. No sooner had they finished than Kali appeared. He prowled up and down his new kingdom swishing his tail while his subjects watched uneasily.
"This is what I call a palace," he roared at last.
The animals gave a sigh of relief. But all too soon, for in the next breath the lion snarled, "But where's my supper? My belly's rumbling. Bring me a juicy warthog."
As soon as he heard this, Hare sneaked off home to his hollow in the baobab tree. "Didn't I tell them?" he said to himself. "Didn't I say that making Kali king would mean big trouble? And would anyone listen?"
And so it was that every day afterwards one of the animals was chosen to be Kali's supper. One day it was an impala. Another it was a zebra. Next it was a gazelle.
One day though it was Hare's turn. Tembo caught him unawares as he was grazing on the plains. The great elephant seized him in his trunk and carried him kicking and screaming to Kali's palace.
"It's not fair!" shrieked Hare. "I didn't even vote for Kali. I told you it was a bad idea to have a king."
But Tembo wouldn't listen. He was thinking of his own children. They would be safe, but only if he could find other animals for Kali to gobble up.
Outside Kali's palace Hare stood shaking and cringing. He had to think of something fast. "Maybe I can escape by jumping in the water-hole," he said. But when he looked down and saw his own reflection shivering on the pool's surface, he stopped in his tracks. Already Kali had spotted him.
"Come inside, Hare!" roared the lion. "I can't wait to eat the only one who didn't vote for me."
But Hare didn't move. He felt braver now and he called back, "But Majesty," he wheedled. "I am very confused. I can see two kings. Please tell me, which of you is to eat me?"
"TWO KINGS!" snapped Kali angrily. "What do you mean two kings?" In one bound he was breathing down on Hare.
"Well, there's you Majesty," stammered Hare, "and there's that other one down there." Hare pointed down into the water-hole.
Kali looked and Kali saw. What - another lion?
"I'll have no rivals!" cried the cruel one, and at once he leaped on the other lion. Down into the pool sank Kali as he tried to grab his enemy. Soon the waters closed over him, and he was gone.
"You've killed our king," said Tembo the elephant in amazement.
"No I didn't," said Hare. "Anyone could see that he jumped into the water-hole all by himself. Besides, you didn't think I was going to stand here and be eaten did you? That would be as foolish as choosing a bully for a king!" And with that he ran away, before anyone else could think of eating him.
"Whew! That WAS a close shave," said Hare from the safety of his baobab tree. "But I'll bet those silly animals will send old rhino round to ask ME to be the king. Some people never learn."
And so it happened. Just as Hare was dropping off to sleep, there was a boom, boom, booming across the plains. "Oh no!" he sighed. "Why am I always right?" He flattened his ears, closed his eyes tighter and pretended to snore. "Anyone can see I'm much too busy to be king. Much, much too busy..."