When the Lion Feeds is a gripping saga beginning with the introduction of twin brothers in Natal in the 1870s. Sean and Garrick Courtney are as close as two brothers can be and as different at the same time. Bonded from birth, their lives intertwine. Sean is the dominant brother—his father's favourite, and Garrick is mostly content to follow in his shadow. It is this dynamic that orchestrates the hunting accident that leaves Garrick without a leg and Sean responsible. With considerable guilt, Sean is easily manipulated, and Garrick uses this to his advantage regularly. Sean becomes his protector, his confidante, his get-out-of-work-free card, and his safety net until war changes everything.
When they are separated by assignments in battle, Garrick is left without his brother's helping hand for the first time and inadvertently rises to the occasion. When set upon and greatly outnumbered by Zulu tribesman, Garrick stumbles, jamming his arm through the door locks just as the Zulus are breaking in. The pain from the resulting compound fractures is so severe that Garrick goes into shock and does not remove his arm as the Zulus continue to try breaking in; thus, he saves many lives, making Garry a hero. This event changes the course of his life.
With Waite Courtney's death in battle, fate takes a turn. Garrick believes Sean is dead also, and he resents the great wealth he now has, happy to give it all up to have Sean back. Feeling as though there is little to live for, he welcomes a visit from Sean's girlfriend, Anna. When she tells Garry that she carries Sean's child, he rises to the occasion and proposes. Anna, seeking relief from constant poverty and a father for her baby, accepts. While they honeymoon, Sean returns to Theunis Kraal. Anna's true feelings come to the surface in a shocking accusation that sets brother against brother and sends Sean on a journey of self-growth and discovery.
Garrick discovers the courage he can tap from alcohol and covers his feelings of social ineptness by dulling them with drink. When the great cattle disease strikes he loses half the stock and has to remortgage the family estate.
Sean leaves and has fabulous success in the gold rush on the Witwatersrand with Duff Charleywood and the beautiful Candy, in the new town of Johannesburg, where huge fortunes are made and lost in a morning's dealing on the Exchange. The atmosphere of this feverish, violent time is brilliantly drawn: the heavy drinking, the elaborate houses, the ruthless abandonment of the failure. Sean and Duff are caught at last in a trap laid by their rival, the sinister and clever Hradsky, and leave Johannesburg for the wilderness to seek their fortunes once more.
Sean goes on to rediscover the simplest pleasures, hunting ivory in the Bushveld . He loses his best friend there but finds the love of his life, and what she gives him he treasures and values more than all the wealth he has ever had. The adventure finally sends him back out into the bush with his son alone, mourning the loss of his wife and thinking about Ladyburg.