Pride Lands Online
The Fourth King
A Lion King Story
By: Trey McElveen

__________The breeze that swept through Mufasa's regal mane was bitterly and unnaturally cold. He shivered in its grasp and huffed, his breath crystallizing and bellowing outward from his nostrils, only to be caught and tossed back into the King's kind expression. The small child that huddled in his paws shook ferociously, his small body curled up against the larger lion's warm stomach. Mufasa took up a paw and stroked the cub with it to calm him.
__________"It's not much longer, son. I know the cold is something strange, but it only lasts one night, and it's worth the wait."
__________Simba looked up from his dormancy and complained, "I'd rather be in the cave than way up here on the top of Pride Rock, Dad. It's too cold!"
__________"We won't be waiting for long, Simba," Mufasa replied warmly, "Here. Look up at the stars, like I've always told you." __________The child complied and Mufasa continued, "One night a year, the air turns cold, and one of the Kings of the Past shines brighter than any other, ever. No one knows who the King was or what he did to earn such a place, but it's a sight that I enjoyed with my father, and I think you will, if we just wait a little longer."
__________Simba scowled, the story seeming like some tangled yarn that had tied itself into an impossible knot. He pressed against his father, who cupped him in a paw and smothered his son in warmth. Despite his sour demeanor, Simba purred, and kept his eyes cast skyward. The wind picked up, and Simba's eyes dried out a bit, sending frigid tears down his cheeks that splashed upon the even icier rock.
__________The tears froze instantly.
__________An hour or more passed. Mufasa was ever-vigilant, but Simba had long ago lost his interest, and had curled up under his father, his eyes closed and fast asleep. Clouds had gathered overhead, signaling the coming of rain and plunging the already inert night into a deeper frost. Mufasa sighed, and for a moment, looked away, back at his son who was huddled, shivering madly and whimpering in his sleep.
__________Defeated, Mufasa whispered so not to wake his son, "Come on, Simba. Let's go inside." He bent to pick Simba up in his jaws, but just as he did so the clouds seemed to part, and a brilliant light bathed Mufasa's eyes, causing him to blink in sudden blindness. The radiance was so strong, that it pried the sleeping Simba's eyes open, who then awoke and cast his tired gaze upward.
__________There, shining like a beacon through a fissure in the clouds, was the brightest star that the cub had ever seen. It shone like the sun, but did not light up the land in the same way. Instead, it sent tendrils of illumination out across the night sky, slitting even the darkest shadows with their beams, the rays throbbing with power and purity unbeknownst to the other glittering lights in the ether. It shimmered like the reflection of a pond, and as the two lions watched in awe, some of the beams seemed to fold their way down and coalesce into a spotlight that shone straight upon the savanna, lighting a small hilltop not more than an hour's journey away.
__________Simba's jaw instantly dropped, and he uttered an incredulous, "Wow." His words seemed to freeze in midair as a large cloud exploded from his muzzle as he spoke.
__________Mufasa joined him in that sentiment, echoing his son's words. But his gaze was not at the star itself, but where the main beam touched the ground, in his own kingdom. He peered closer, straining to see as far as he could in the dim night, and at the center of the spotlit hilltop, he spied a small tree standing where he knew there had not been one before.
__________The sight stirred Mufasa, and he broke his son out of his stargazing abstraction by saying, "Come on, son. We're going to see where that light leads!"
__________Simba instantly perked up, despite the cold and aching muscles, "All right!" Mufasa turned and quickly bounded down the side of Pride Rock, stopping only to make sure his son was following. When they had both reached the ground, they gained their bearings and tore off across the grasses together, towards the hilltop.
__________Simba was enthused, but not ecstatic, and soon the fatigue of running towards the light overtook him. His father crouched low, and Simba scrambled upon his back to ride the rest of the way. Mufasa broke into a steady trot, talking to his son and keeping him awake for the rest of the journey. They crossed the grassland quickly, not stopping for anything, not even the occasional yawn. But try as he might, Mufasa could not save his young son from falling fast asleep on his shoulders. He smiled to himself, enjoying the warmth he and his child shared, allowing himself a wondrous gaze at the sleeping form of the Lion Prince before carefully continuing onward.
__________Together, they traversed the gap quickly, and before Mufasa ascended the last rise he crouched again and slid the still slumbering cub from his shoulders. With a nudge, and an icy caress of the tongue, he stirred Simba, who awoke again, bleary-eyed but coherent. The child smiled softly, his breath catching in the cold night, "Are we there, Dad?"
__________Mufasa nodded, "We're there. Come on, it's at the top of this hill." Simba picked himself from the ground and looked up at the apex. The ray of the star had not lost its brilliance, and he was awestruck by the sheer beauty the beacon radiated in all directions. It looked like a great white pillar in the sky, reaching down to the earth, its foundation firmly planted in the ground of the hilltop. The light was unwavering, steady unlike the shimmering twinkle of the stars around it.

__________Newly found conviction took hold in both Mufasa and Simba, and all thought of rest or further pause left them. With great speed they hurtled up the hill, laughing joyously and romping in the night. They pounced, played, and frolicked up the hill, not despising the cold now but reveling in it, enjoying the brisk, frigid air for all they were worth.
__________The slowed a bit as they came abreast of the hill, and when they peaked, their eyes were met with the most incredible sight. The brilliance of the star pierced their gaze, but it was not in the least bit uncomfortable, and in the center of the spotlit hilltop, stood a most peculiar looking tree. It was almost conical in shape, its branches very low to the ground. The broad leaves of savanna trees were replaced by prickly needles, the trunk was low and thick and covered with a coarse looking bark. The branches, long near the bottom, dwindled in length as the tree continued upward, coming to a point at the top.
__________But, queer as the sight was, it was ousted by a stranger looking animal that sat peacefully under the branches of the tree. It was small, and the two lions easily distinguished it as a child of some animal, but it was unlike any they had ever seen. IT was covered in a curly white hair that, from afar, looked almost abrasive and yet somehow tender. The fur glowed ethereally as the light from the star shone upon it, casting an eerie glow about its figure. Slowly, the creature turned its gaze toward the two visitors, and Mufasa and Simba saw that it had a muzzle not unlike the antelope that bounded along the plains, but that it was a bit different in that it was shorter and wider than the creatures they were used to. It had no paws, but instead hooves, and ears that were medium-sized but very attentive and pert. The eyes were deep pools of black, so unfathomably introspective, and yet somehow intelligent with wisdom beyond its meager age.
__________The lamb bleated to the two lions, and they approached without hesitation. As they stepped into the star's beacon, the air suddenly became noticeably warmer, and their breath did not show as they drew air. Simba padded up to the creature, eyes wide and wondrous. The lamb showed no fear to the two predators, but instead acted as if it were among family, showing complete and total trust in the two visitors.
__________Mufasa stopped short of the tree, watching inquisitively as his son explored the new animal with his senses. The King pondered what he saw, knowing that what he did see was completely out of place in the great expanse of the African savanna, and yet he could not discount the existence of his visions. He pondered what he saw fervently, attempting to explain the appearance of this tree and this creature upon his lands. But it was all to no avail, since each of his explanations was more absurd than what he was trying to explain.
__________Simba sniffed at the lamb with no trepidation. He knew instantly, from instinct, that it was a prey animal, but Simba was puzzled by the lack of any scent of fear. He explored with his nose farther, and when the Prince approached the creature's muzzle, it was met with a bleat and a quick kiss on the nose, which sent Simba into fits of laughter. He pawed at the sheep's cub, his foot landing on the soft, downy wool of the lamb. Simba was shocked at first at the texture of the fur; the hard, coarse look certainly did not go with the soothing feel of the hairs. He patted the lamb a bit, and then looked up to his father and said with cubish naiveté, "Dad, are we gonna eat 'em?"
__________Mufasa was still locked deep in thought. He searched every possibility he could think of, until he was finally met with the conclusion that this had no real purpose he could understand. Maybe, just maybe, this tree and this lamb had some higher purpose, something ethereal, something beyond reasoning. Perhaps it was a matter of the heart, a matter of faith, and a matter of love.
__________Mufasa thought more on this. He thought that maybe there is a time where all creatures should forgive their transgresses, their urges, and their needs, and focused on others. Maybe there was a day that, when in the coldest of hours, there was always one shining starlit miracle that banded all of Creation together, where all was one, no matter where or even what they were.
__________Mufasa thought, and then finally gave a fatherly chuckle and shook his head, "No, son. Not this one." He lightly patted the lamb on the head with a paw. "Somehow, this creature has something else to provide for us."
__________Simba didn't understand, "What do you mean, Dad?"
__________Mufasa looked absent once more, and then finally said, "I'm not sure, son. I don't think anyone is." His gaze continued to be distant, until something caught his eye in the gleam of the star's bright radiance. He watched it against the ebony curtain of night, a small silvery shard floating down to the ground as if out of the sky itself. It twisted and turned, swerving this way and that, until it finally landed softly on the ground, sticking to the golden grass.
__________Simba's eyes went wide, his gaze pried from the lamb for a moment, towards an even more enticing sight. With an excited paw, he pointed behind Mufasa, into the savanna, "Look!"
__________Mufasa turned quickly, and his jaw went agape. All over the Pridelands, countless numbers of those same tiny silver-white flakes were falling and sticking to the earth. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, they covered the ground, forming a white blanket over the rolling plains. Mufasa placed his paw in the white sheet and started when he felt the cold on the bottom of his paw. Applying pressure, the sheet gave way with an almost satisfying crunching sound, leaving a perfectly formed pawprint in the newly formed blanket. He looked up, and Simba joined him at his side, and they both looked out over the plains. Millions upon millions of these flakes were falling from the sky, covering the ground, building up in the streams and riverbanks, catching on the leaves of the sparse trees, snagging in the two lion's fur, making them look like speckled denizens of some mountainous peak. And as they looked, they realized what was happening, although neither the Prince nor the King had any words for it.
__________It was snowing in the Pridelands.
__________The star overhead flickered, the clouds shrouding it from view. The two lions turned from the snow flurry to see the image of the tree and the lamb fading into the blackness. Simba cried out and ran to the lamb, pouncing upon it as he would a beloved friend. The lamb made no shout of apprehension, but instead bleated softly and gave Simba a final lick upon the cheek before the clouds overhead swallowed the brilliant beacon whole. The lamb cast both Prince and King one final look before plunging into the night it came from, a look that spoke of untold security, love, devotion, and caring. With it, it took the tree, and after they faded, there was no evidence that either had ever existed upon that spot.
__________Simba shivered, the cold quickly returning to the hilltop, the flakes of snow clinging to his fur. He tried so very hard to rationalize what had just happened, but couldn't, finally reaching the conclusion that some things are just better left unquestioned.
__________Mufasa took his son into his paws and hugged him very tightly. He purred mightily, his warmth once again shared with his son. Simba smiled and gazed up at his father. The snow had become more persistent now, and a multitude of snowflakes had nestled themselves in Mufasa's mane, so many that their gleam in the waning moonlight rivaled the true stars themselves.
__________Not a word was spoken between them on the way back home. Instead, they walked slowly through the night, neither one the least bit tired. As the snow piled up, it got harder to walk, but neither minded. The cold was bitter, but even it seemed to warm the hearts of the two lions as they returned home.
__________Suddenly, the clouds parted once again, and there in the crevasse, they could see the radiant star in all its brilliance, the great shaft of light reaching out to the earth and gripping it, but now they could not see where it touched. It had seemed to pick up and move itself to a new locale.
__________Simba stood amongst the snowdrifts and watched the star burn in its unfaltering light, and for one brief moment, he understood. He knew what the star was for, what the tree and the lamb had meant, the message that they both, together, had conveyed. The Prince opened his mouth to declare his revelation to his father, but one look at the regal King told Simba that he, too, had discovered the truth on his own.
__________"Dad?" Simba began, a bit haltingly, "Does this happen every year?"
__________Mufasa didn't answer at first, but after a long pause, he replied, "Yes, son. And if you let it, it can happen everyday."

Text Version
Author: Trey McElveen
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