Branded by Tears tells the story of a heartbroken mother lioness, Mauja when she takes in an orphaned cheetah cub.
Genre: Adventure/Fantasy, anthropomorphic fiction
Setting: Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria, Africa
Release Date: Late 2023; (coming soon) – be the first to know by following our Patreon!
Branded by Tears
Mauja’s dream of being a mother dies along with her stillborn first cubs. That same night, the heartbroken lioness stumbles – quite literally – upon an orphaned baby cheetah.
Two choices lay before her: End the cub’s misery. Or adopt him.
Unable to bear seeing the loss of young life again that night, Mauja does what would be unthinkable to her pride sisters. She takes the cheetah baby as her own son. Now, she must face new challenges. The pride will not accept her or her son. And worse yet, she finds out quickly that raising a cheetah in lion ways may spell doom for him when he grows up.
Mauja has one hope left. She must find a mysterious pride of lions called the Mahari. A pride who, the stories say, possess a special, powerful secret that may help her. Mauja knows her father was a Mahari lion. She bears the marks near her eyes – Mahari’s tears – to prove it. But are the stories about the Mahari actually true?
The path ahead for Mauja is uncertain. Finding the Mahari means she must leave her pride, her home, and everything she’s ever known. And what if the stories aren’t true?
What if the risk and dangers are too great?
Mauja, with her cheetah son Ṣìkẹ́mi, must choose to make that leap of faith. Will they land safely on the other side?
Cubs lose their mother, she thought. Again, it felt as though a heavy paw pressed down on her throat. A mother loses her cubs. She swallowed. Get over it, Mauja! That’s just how things are –
Just then, her paw came down on something soft. And alive.
She jumped back at the noise. Her ears shot up in surprise once she looked down.
A yellow cub with black spots crouched at her feet. He was hissing and spitting. The long, gray fur on his back stood on end. She might have mistaken him for a honey badger with such a bold display, had his scent not betrayed his age and his fear.
Mauja chuckled for a heartbeat, before the humor in the situation disappeared like a puddle in the hot sun. She sniffed and looked around, but detected no other cubs. And no mother, either – though Mauja was certain she knew just where she was. Mauja turned her gaze back to the cub. He was trembling now, but still standing his ground. His little mouth didn’t even have teeth.
“Shh,” Mauja said in a soothing tone, reaching out a paw and pulling the cub close. Oh, poor child. “Shh, I’m not going to hurt you.” She licked the top of his head once, smoothing down his gray fluff of “mane”. Then she licked him again and again until his breathing slowed.
He snuggled tight against her and mewed, inching his way one paw at a time along her side. He only stopped when he found her milk-swollen teats and started to nurse.
The feeling of the cheetah cub feeding shifted something in Mauja. She felt her breath catch in her throat. What am I doing? I can’t… the kindest thing to do would be to… Mauja raised her paw, letting her claws peek out. But the thought of seeing him lying lifeless stung like a scorpion’s strike. And what would she do once he was dead? Take his body to join his mother’s in the bellies of the crocodiles? Leave him, like the guards had his mother, for the scavengers? I couldn’t even spare my own sons that fate.
WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.
Mauja put her paw back down and slid her claws away. We can’t stay here. If the guards find him… if anyone finds him… She pushed him away from her belly and lifted him up in her jaws…
We wouldn’t be here today without Rankin Bass. The main character of Branded By Tears owes her origin to Shegra, the lioness trusted to nurse an infant Saint Nick in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Predating my obsession with The Lion King, the character who would become Mauja was first imagined as a young lioness cub who convinced her mother to accept the orphaned cheetah cub she stumbled on.
Then the 1989 Disney film Cheetah sparked the idea to show the struggle of teaching a cheetah to survive the wild.
The mysterious Mahari owe their existence to a single design choice by Nala15. While the loose concept of what would become Mahari’s Children already existed, I would have never connected the Mahari with Mauja had the design I purchased, which became Mauja’s father, not had two distinct markings. These became “Mahari’s Tears”.
The legend of the mother cheetah who cried for nights on end for her stolen cubs, until the tracks of her tears forever branded her face, crashed into “Ajamu’s” teardrop markings inspiration.
And here we are.
More information coming soon!
Check back often for more updates!