A/N: Yes, I write too many stories about wolves. But this one has lions in it too! In fact, it's mostly about lions, see? Ah well… Here goes…
In a small, filthy cage, a tiny, gray wolf pup whined, huddled next to his mother. The she-wolf leaned over and licked at the pup's fur with her rough tongue. He continued to cry, but the mother had expected that. She knew what he wanted was milk but she had none to give him. They were given barely enough food to make it through each day, yet they were expected to perform stupid tricks that sapped their energy.
The she-wolf was about to curl up and go to sleep when she heard a booming voice. She winced. She didn't understand the words, but she knew the voice and had learned that something bad usually followed. A twoleg walked in, the one she always thought of as "the fool". He was a young man, not particularly bad, but not so bright, and too quick to obey the cruel one. The twoleg came over and opened the cage door, slipping a chain collar around her neck and leading her out of the small, dark room. The pup whined louder and the mother wolf looked back, not knowing this would be the last time she'd see him.
The fool led her out of the shed and towards the big tent. She thought for the millionth time about escape. But even if she could break the chain, could she make it over the tall fence that enclosed a bunch of small sheds and a couple of big tents? She doubted it. Besides, my pup. If something happened to me, he would be alone.
They entered the big tent as they'd done so many times before, and the wolf heard the booming voice again. The cruel one. He stood in the center of the tent, holding a whip and calling to the twolegs that sat around the edges of the tent, barely separated from lions and bears by a short wall. The fool petted the she-wolf's head, then slipped her chain collar off. She heard the cruel one shout the name he'd given her – bonecruncher. I'd like to crunch his bones, she thought. Instead, she simply stepped to her place in the ring.
She heard a loud pop, her cue, and she approached the blazing ring that stood before her. She ran towards it and bunched all her muscles, prepared to leap through the fiery hoop. She sailed trough the air, but hadn't even made it to the hoop before she felt weakness overwhelm her. She crashed to the ground. The fool ran over to her and slipped the chain around her neck again. He led her away as the cruel one and another twoleg spoke words she didn't understand.
"She was getting too old for this," the other twoleg said. "Why do you have a wolf in a circus anyway?"
"This isn't a circus," the cruel one growled. "Do you see any clowns or acrobats? This is a wild animal show. Wolves just happen to be cheaper than tigers, and easier to get a license for."
"As if you care about legalities. So, what, are you going to…?"
"No, we won't kill her. My brother's got a zoo. I might as well make a few dollars off of the animal. We'll start training her pup to take her place soon."
The wolf didn't understand his words, but she would soon find out what was going on.
The pup whimpered. Mother? Where are you, mother? The twolegs often took his mother away, but this was longer than usual. He whined and curled up in the corner of the cage where his mother would often lie, breathing in her scent. The shed door opened and the pup yipped. "Mother?"
Instead of mother, in walked several twolegs, laughing about something in their strange twoleg language. They came over and opened the cage door. The pup came closer, curious. He was too young to be afraid. Suddenly, a pair of huge hands reached down and picked him up by the scruff. He wriggled to get free, but couldn't. The twoleg carried him out of the shed and he blinked in the sunlight. It's so bright out here! He had been used to the darkness of the shed he'd lived in since birth. Just as his eyes adjusted to the light, they entered another shed, a bigger one.
The pup sniffed the air. Lion! He'd never seen one, but he'd smelled them and his mother had told him about them. The shed had several large cages in it, some with two or more. They were the biggest thing the pup had ever seen, and just as his mother had described them: magnificent, with golden fur and powerful muscles. Some had huge, flowing ruffs of fur around their heads. He wondered if they were as fierce as his mother had told him.
Laughing, the twolegs carried him to a cage in the back. A peeling wooden sign hug above the cage door with golden letters on it: Akanke. The pup, of course, could not read, so he paid no attention to it. Even if he could, he would still be too busy staring at the creature inside the cage: a large lioness with dark tan fur. Her claws were long and she bared her teeth in a snarl. The twolegs opened the cage and tossed the young wolf in, cackling cruelly. The pup cowered in the corner, sure he was about to be eaten.
"I won't hurt you." The lioness was still lying in the corner, and she'd concealed her claws. "I was growling at the twolegs."
The twolegs had a look of shock on their faces when they realized the lion wasn't going to eat the pup after all. The lioness leapt at the side of the cage, roaring, and the twolegs ran out of the shed.
When they had gone, the lion said, "My name is Akanke. Those twolegs are cruel, aren't they?"
The pup just nodded, feeling overwhelmed. I am in a lion's cage and she isn't trying to eat me!
"You're just lucky they didn't put you in that cage," Akanke said, as if she'd read his mind. She flicked her tail towards another cage nearby, where a lioness snarled at them. Akanke roared and the other lioness backed away.
"Do you know my mother?" the pup asked. Maybe she can help me…
"No, but I have seen her in the ring, where the twolegs take us. Bonecruncher, right?"
The pup nodded. That was the name the twolegs had given her. River was her real name.
"So, what's your name, little one?" Akanke asked.
"I don't have one. The twolegs took my mother away. She hadn't even named me yet."
Akanke looked at him sadly. "My two cubs have just died. I guess we are both alone now." They were silent for a moment, and then Akanke said, "Since you do not have a name, I shall give you one. You will be called Habib."
The pup mouthed the name. "What does that mean?" he asked.
"It means… beloved."
Habib suddenly felt very tired. He curled up next to the lioness and fell asleep as she licked his head.