Nothing stirred on the tropical African plains. The sun glared down and Hare crept inside the cool hollow of a giant tree for his afternoon sleep.
Suddenly he was wide awake. There was a boom, boom, booming in his ears. And it was getting closer. Hare grew suspicious and peeped out from the tree in terror. Across the clearing the bushes broke and parted, and a huge gray shape appeared.
“Oh it’s you!” said Hare, looking annoyed. “How can a fellow sleep with all the noise you make?”
The rhinoceros stared at him short-sightedly.
“Greetings!” he said in his slow way. “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 vote, but you didn’t participate.”
“This is ridiculous!” cried Hare rudely. “What do I want with a new king? He’ll threaten us from morning till night and render our lives miserable. I predict that there will be no justice in his kingdom.”
“Don’t you want to see who’s been chosen?” asked Rhino.
“I know already,” said Hare impatiently. “It will be that cunning 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. A huge herd of animals had gathered there: wolves, the elephant, who was the spokesman for the new king, 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 clapped their hands and cheered. But Hare only sighed. “They’ll soon see what a horrible mistake they’ve made.”
Out on a ridge above the water-hole strode Kali with a loop of ribbon around his neck. He stared down at all his subjects and there was a wicked glow in his eye.
“You’ve made me your supreme king,” he roared as if the volcano was erupting, “and so now you’ll serve me without any reservation! If you do anything without my prior consent, the only consequence will simply be death. I’m no saint.” And the he roared again and the animals trembled as if an earthquake was hitting the plains.
“My first decree is that you must build a palace to shield my royal fur from the hot sun,” said Kali. “I want it here beside the water-hole and I want it by sunset tomorrow at any expense. I will forgive no error in construction. The breadth-length ratio of the structure of my palace must be correct.”
“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 the lot of you!”
The animals now turned to one another in horror. They had thought a king would be wise and would protect them. But Kali only wanted to threaten and eat them. As darkness fell, the unhappy animals crept away into the jungle.
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 grass stems that weaver birds wove for the roof. All of them were tired and thirsty as they exerted hard efforts, but none dared stop for a moment. They knew that revolting against Kali would be equivalent to suicide. Only Hare did nothing. He hid inside a bush of oat grass and watched as the fine grass-roofed house was erected beside the water-hole.
The sun was just beginning to set as the weaver birds tied off the last knots in the soaring grass roof. No sooner had they finished than Kali appeared. He prowled up and down his new kingdom shaking 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? I’m starving. Bring me a juicy piglet.”
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 a bull. Another it was a wolf. Next it was a goose.
One day 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!” cried Hare. “I didn’t event vote for Kali. I told you if 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 swallow.
Outside Kali’s palace Hare stood shaking and struggling. 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 knew that the odds of success would be very small. Already Kali had detected 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 by 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 drowned.
“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……”