ONE DAY LONG AGO IN ROME, a slave named Androcles ran away from his evil master. He ran and ran into the woods. At last, Androcles came to a stop. “I will be safe here,” he said.
Two days went by, but no food or water. What would Androcles do – how could he live?
All of a sudden, there was a deep moan. Then a full, big roar. “Oh, my!” said Androcles.
“It’s a lion!” Full of fear, he ran as fast as his legs could go. But Androcles did not see a tree root under his foot. Then, thwap! His face went down on the ground. And his foot was stuck.
He had to get his foot free from the root, and fast! Soon Androcles was up on his feet again but – Oh no! There, coming slowly right at him, was the lion! It moaned and walked in an odd way. Could it be hurt? Androcles froze in fear.
The lion held out one paw to Androcles, and moaned again.
After a bit, Androcles said, “Are you hurt?”
The lion gave Androcles a big sad look, like a kitten.
“I must be out of my mind to even think about doing this,” he said. Just the same, Androcles stepped closer to the lion. And what did he see in the paw held out to him, but one big ugly thorn! “You poor thing!” said Androcles in a soft voice.
He knew the lion would not feel better until the thorn was gone. But should he pull it out? That would hurt a lot, and the lion could get very mad! But he beast looked at Androcles with very big eyes. And he gave such a low sad moan that Androcles knew at once what he must do.
With great care, Androcles stepped close to the lion. He set his two hands on the paw. In one quick flash he drew out the thorn. The lion roared and roared with pain! Androcles cried out in fear, “What a mess I am in!” But as if the lion knew his paw would get better and it was all thanks to Androcles, he gave Androcles one big lick on the leg.
From then on, the lion did all it could to show Androcles how glad it was the thorn was gone.
Soon the lion brought back a deer it had slain. Androcles was able to make his first meal in days! Every day the lion would bring food. Androcles would pet the beast on his head and talk to him in a tender way.
One day, soldiers from Rome were in the woods, looking for runaway slaves. When they heard a voice, they hid behind some trees. When Androcles walked by, the soldiers could tell by his torn robe and dirty feet that he must be a slave. And so they jumped out and grabbed him! In the time it takes to tie a rope around his two hands, the soldiers bound Androcles and dragged him back to Rome.
In those days in Rome, a slave would die if he had run away and was caught. Even worse, such slaves might be thrown to the lions and Romans would watch their terrible fate.
Androcles was told he would be thrown to the lions. On that day, he was led to the place where he would be left alone with a hungry lion. He was left with only one small spear to keep himself safe from the beast.
The Emperor was in the royal box that day. He gave the sign for the lion to come out and attack.
But when the beast rushed out of its cage and leaped to Androcles, what do you think it did? Instead of attacking, it stopped right next to him. Instead of jumping on Androcles, the lion stroked him with a paw.
As you must know by now, this was the very same lion Androcles had met in the woods! The Emperor, surprised to see a lion act in such an odd way, called him over.
“Slave,” said the Emperor, “explain this.” Androcles told the Emperor what happened in the woods. And how glad the lion was when he had taken out the thorn. The Emperor could not believe such a tale. Yet he knew it must be true. For even at that very moment, the lion was rubbing its head on Androcle’s leg. So the Emperor said that Androcles may go free. The lion was taken back to the forest, and let loose to enjoy its freedom once more.