The Cheetah Who Would Be King

by Duncan Jones

Once upon a time there was a cheetah. He was no ordinary cheetah though, as he was very big for his kind and VERY fast. He was, in fact, so outstanding in all manners that merit attention out on the grassland (the yellow ocean) that hardly any time passed after his birth before the entire kingdom knew his name, the Talk of the Land. He was a magnificent hunter of course and ate very well, growing very strong because of it. And he continued to grow until even the lions and hyenas and leopards and wild dogs wouldn’t quarrel with him. And they all love to pick on cheetahs.

So one day the old bull elephant came to the young cheetah (as he did with all the young animals). The old bull was the Keeper of the Land, an advisor to all, wise and old as he was. While the lions may have been the Kings and Queens, even they checked in with the elephant from time to time to make sure everything was in order.

So this one hot hot day he came to the cheetah and said, “I do not believe we have yet met, but I have heard great things about you. Tell me, are they true?”

“Of course they’re true,” yawned the cheetah, who was looking quite bothered. (He had been napping as cats do.)

“Well then,” continued the elephant, noting the attitude in the cheetah’s voice, “good for you. I’m sure things will go very well for you.” And he made to walk off but after only a few steps he stopped, turning back to the cheetah, “Perhaps … “

“Perhaps??” mocked the cheetah, yawning again.

“… perhaps I could interest you in a challenge? Prove your greatness with a test, and I shall reward you, as I am the Keeper of the Land.”

With that, the cheetah suddenly took interest, and he sprang up, ready as could be for whatever the elephant had in mind. Now, during this chat between the Keeper of the Land and the Talk of the Land the vultures, flying high in the sky, took note, and it wasn’t too long before a small crowd started to gather. Meerkats began to pop up out of their dens, and more vultures, like dragons, began to swoop in from farther away than any eyes can see.

And out on the grassland when a small crowd gathers, a larger crowd gathers soon after.

“Alright then,” said the elephant as he placed a branch on the ground in view of all eyes present. “Circle around the herd of horns and stripes by the time the shadows have reached this branch, and all will know how fast you are, and I will declare you the Lord of your kind! The Lord of the Running Cats! The cheetah took off and made it back with time to spare, ready to collect on his new title. So the old bull, in a most dignified voice spoke up, “Very impressive! Now in front of all present I declare you Lord of the Running …” and with this he paused.

As the cheetah raised his head the elephant continued, “Unless …”

“Unless what!?” snapped the cheetah!

“Unless of course you’d be willing to wager what you’ve just earned for different title, maybe one a bit more fitting … one that carries a bit more influence?”

The cheetah again snapped, “Go on!”

So the elephant continued, “I see that was quite easy for you, too easy for you. And I see too that we have woken the daytime grasses, and a crowd is coming! Now more, some zebras and wildebeests who had noticed the circling cheetah, had come trotting over.

Then calmly the old bull moved the branch a bit farther and looking at the cheetah said, “Of course we already knew you were fast. But make easy work of those three trees on the horizon, up and down each as smooth as the snakes, and all will know you are beautiful, for what greater beauty is there in our world apart from grace on top of speed? For this I shall declare you Lord of the Trees, what an honor! You will nap in peace for all days!”

And like a shot the cheetah was off again. Up and down, up and down, up and down, without even a single disturbed leaf or nest, and all watched him as he raced back to where a now much larger crowd was waiting. With plenty of time he arrived to find that rhinos and hippos and gazelles and giraffes and buffalo had joined, making a lovely trail mix of company.

“Outstanding!” trumpeted the elephant, moving the branch a third time and smiling as he looked over at the panting cheetah. “Again I have underestimated your greatness, but bet again, this time on a real challenge, one worthy of you, and I shall reward you with an even greater title!

“Fine!” said the cheetah, almost irritated. “Then let’s get to it.”

“Good,” announced the elephant to all. “Now go dance through those with the big teeth basking on the muddy banks, without slipping of course, and all will know you are sure-footed, the most prized talent of all, whether hunter or hunted! For this I shall declare you Lord of the NIGHT! No longer will you ask permission from the hyenas or worry from their laughter!”

And so a third time, this time even faster than before, the cheetah blazed across the grass and down along the banks. A few of the crocodiles made to snap at him, but none even came close, and soon enough he was back to find that almost all in the grassland had now gathered. The lions and hyenas and leopards and wild dogs had joined. Normally they wouldn’t have been bothered, but since the hippos had left the river, well, something had to be a big deal, and so they too had made their way over to crowd surrounding the old bull.

The cheetah, now tiring a bit (and showing it), walked over, ready to claim his title. The elephant congratulated him, ”Yes you have earned the title ‘Lord of the Night,’“ but here the mood changed, his tone darkened and he lowered his voice to the nearly silent and low elephant rumble that only the wild ones can hear. And eying the great old lion, the old bull asked the cheetah, “Bet once more though, one more test, and I shall give you a reward not fit for a Lord, but one that is truly fit for a King.”

A hush fell over all, even the sun dipped a bit lower in the afternoon sky, and the cheetah asked, “And what is the reward?”

“You mean what is the test?” rumbled the old bull. Then he motioned behind the cheetah to where a huge young buffalo with gleaming black horns walked forward, snorting and slashing. “Even the lions do not tackle the buffalo alone. Bring him down in front of the entire kingdom, and this will be your final test.”

“And what will you give me if I do?” asked the cheetah a second time.

The elephant, old and wise as he was, simply said, “Anything you want.”

And when a ring had been formed by all the test began (all in sport of course), and this time it was not over quickly. Hardly any could believe what they were watching as the two dueled, tearing up the ground and filling the air with grass and dust. It was strongest of the fast against the fastest of the strong, and none had ever seen anything like it. (All were in fact so amazed by the spectacle of the cheetah and the buffalo that not one noticed the lone man running across the horizon far in the distance.)

The fight raged on and on until finally, after what might have been an hour, the cheetah, with all of his remaining effort, tripped the buffalo, slamming him down hard and holding him there, until the old bull calmly said, “Enough.”

The buffalo, with the wind knocked out of him, could hardly even make a sound, but finally managed to stumble back to the crowd.

Then the exhausted cheetah rose up, surrounded by the chattering crowd, but he quickly sank back to the ground. Once more a hush fell, and the old bull wrapped his trunk under the cheetah to help him stand, “You have proven your greatness for all to see. Magnificent! YES! As promised, I will grant you whatever you want. Just say the word, and it is yours!”

After a long moment the cheetah gathered his strength, and in front of the entire kingdom finally said, “Water.”