And the spirit of life

Simba lay between his parents, wrapped in warmth and the heavy scent of lion. His head rested on Mufasa's great paw and his back against Sarabi's side. He wasn't sure what had woken him; no birds sang, and from the depth of the darkness he could tell it was several hours till dawn. He wriggled onto his back with a contented sigh and closed his eyes again.

The cub raised his head and peered towards the den entrance. He could dimly make out a figure standing there. Was it a lion? It was smaller and thinner than most, and the shape seemed oddly twisted...
"Uncle Scar?"
"Ssh! Don't wake your parents." There was a purring note in Scar's low whisper. "Come here. I have a surprise for you."

Simba rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. What did Uncle Scar want in the middle of the night? Normally he avoided his nephew, growling and turning away when the cub demanded a story or a ride. Still, a surprise was a surprise. He scrambled over his father's back, slid to the ground and pattered eagerly to his uncle.

The older lion gave a satisfied smirk, his teeth shining in his dark face. "Good boy. Come."

Scar led him up a winding path to the summit of Pride Rock. It was hard going, and the older lion had to nudge the cub up the steeper places with his nose.

"Are we going hunting?" Simba asked eagerly. Scar gave a nasty laugh.
"Dear me no, little prince. What could I ever outrun with these old injuries? Besides, we males do not hunt."
"Aww, but I want to!" Simba pouted. "It's not fair!"
"That's a feeling you'll have to get used to when you are king," Scar told him shortly.

They sat together at the very tip of the rock. It was a black night; there were no clouds and the moon was in its thinnest phase, a lion's claw of gold in the sky.

"Can you see your father's lands, Prince Simba? Can you see the borders of your territory?"
Simba crawled to the edge of the drop and craned his neck, staring out into the darkness. He couldn't even make out where sky ended and land began. He shook his head.

Scar nodded. "In the dark, all is as one. We are one," he said. A sudden breeze ruffled the lions' fur, and Simba shivered in his baby coat. His uncle put a foreleg around the cub.

"Simba, has your father told you about the great kings of the past? How they watch us from above?"
Simba nodded. Scar's lip curled in a thin smile.
"I thought so. Our father - your grandfather - told Mufasa and me the same thing when we were your age."

He gazed into the cub's eyes. "But what of all the other lions, Simba? The lesser kings, and the ones who never got to be kings at all? What happens to them?" Scar's hackles were raised and his thin mane bristled.

Simba frowned. "I never thought about it." he said.
"Surprise, surprise. You never had to. Your place in the heavens is assured." He advanced on Simba, his eyes glittering slits.
"What happens to them, princeling? Is it as if they never existed? Do they just die? Do they, cub?"

The golden prince, shabby grey now in the dark, backed cringing away.
"I don't know, Uncle! I don't know!" he squealed, panic in his voice. His brown eyes stretched so wide with fear that his uncle could see two tiny glowering Scars reflected in them.
"Please, I want to go home now!"

Then it happened. A yellow gleam appeared on the horizon and flashed towards them, a golden tail shining behind it. For a moment Simba saw Mufasa's territory in silhouette, every rock and tree standing out in sharp relief as the bright thing shot over their heads.

"Whoa!" Simba gasped, falling over backwards as he tried to follow the shooting star with his eyes. "What was that?"

"Ssh," Scar picked him up. "There's more."

Another streak of gold flashed towards them from the direction of the dawn, seeming so big and near that Simba flattened himself to the rock. Then two together, then three, washing the Pridelands with sharp white light. Then they were so numerous that the sky was filled with them.

Simba's head darted here and there as he tried to count them, but it was like watching a flock of flamingoes swoop over a lake, or the mating dance of a termite colony. Simba felt dizzy and very small as he watched the flaring lights chase each other across the sky in their thousands. It was as bright as day, but instead of the sun's steady yellow glow the light was a magical silver which danced and leaped and made the familiar savannah look like another world.

For over an hour the two lions sat side-by-side, heads upturned, eyes fixed on the display. Then the coming of the meteors slowed until only one or two a minute burned by in a searing streak.

"What was that, Uncle?" Simba asked again in an awed whisper. Scar took his eyes off the sky and looked at his nephew.
"Those were the other lions, Simba. The great pride of the heavens, travelling forever in search of game. Once a year they pass overhead, and every year they are more numerous than before. Every lion who ever lived runs with that pride, from the time when our ancestors' ancestors stopped being lion-like creatures and became true lions." He let out a great sigh. "You'd better get back to Mufasa and Sarabi before you're missed. Go on. Shoo,"

Though Simba could have watched the sky all night, he suddenly realised he was cold and hungry. He frisked up to Scar and kissed the bigger lion on the nose, provoking a growl of irritation or surprise. Then he slithered and scrambled down the rocks to the den, padded quietly inside and slipped into the cub-sized space between his sleeping parents.

But Scar stayed at the tip of Pride Rock until sunrise, his battered head raised high, watching the celestial pride that humans call the Leonids.