King of the Beasts

King of the Beasts (A Nigerian Tale)

Once upon a time, Lion was King of the Beasts. Every day he chased the other creatures for food. When he caught one, he gobbled it down, and then set off to find and eat another.

The animals were always frightened. They spent their days and nights trembling or hiding or running, and at last, they decided they must find some way to bring some peace to their difficult lives.

They all met together at a safe place in the forest and decided to ask Lion if he might accept a gift each day. They would choose one creature every day to give to Lion, but in return, Lion would promise to leave all the others alone.

Now Lion was proud, but he was lazy, too, and so he accepted the offer.

The animals drew lots to see who would be the first victim. One by one they drew their lots. Hare, his whiskers twitching nervously, drew the shortest lot.

The others were greatly relieved. “So you’re Lion’s breakfast tomorrow,” they said. “We’ll take you to him first thing in the morning. Be ready at the crack of dawn.”

“I’ll be waiting for you,” Lion snapped. “I’m very hungry when I awake.”

Hare nodded and hopped back to his hole in the ground. There he shivered and fretted all night long. “What shall I do?” he wondered. And finally, just minutes before sunrise, he came up with a plan to save his skin.

As the sun rose, Hare hopped to meet the other animals.

“I’m here!” he cried bravely. “But fellow creatures, there’s no need to drag me to Lion’s den. I’ll go calmly on my own. Allow a creature to maintain his dignity.”

And so the others waved farewell to Hare and went off to their hunting and their dozing and their watering holes.

When the others were gone, Hare hopped to his hole, climbed in and fell fast asleep.

When Lion woke and saw no animal at his side, he roared with fury. He began to run through the grassland in search of Hare.

Hearing the roars, Hare climbed a tree overlooking a well. As Lion drew near, Hare shouted down, “Why do you make so much noise, Lion? You’re disturbing the peace.”

“I’ve been waiting all morning for you, Hare. Come down this minute.”

“I was coming along, Lion. And I was bringing you a bucket of honey to eat with me. But on my way, another lion met me. He grabbed that honey right out of my paws!”

Now Lion was starving, and the thought of sweet honey served on Hare was almost more than he could bear. “Another lion!” he growled. “Where is this thieving lion who has stolen my honey!”

“Now that’s exactly why I’m here in this tree, Lion. That thief is right down in that well beside you, and I was going to try to get that honey back. He says he’s not afraid of you. You see, this lion is much stronger than you.”

“He’s what!” Lion growled angrily, for lions are notoriously proud. The thought of a thieving lion who believed he was the strongest of beasts infuriated him. He raced to the well, looked down. Sure enough, there in the water at the bottom of the well stood another lion staring up at him.

“How dare you steal my honey?” The lion roared to the lion in the well.

The lion in the well said nothing. He just went on staring.

“You hideous creature,” Lion snarled, for he was certain if he insulted this thieving lion, he would leap out of the well. Then Lion would grab the honey.

But the lion in the well just kept on staring silently.

Now Lion was enraged. “Your parents are fools, and you’re worse than a fool,” Lion growled, for nothing is more insulting to a lion than a slur about his parents.

Still, the lion in the well said nothing.

The lion was so incensed, he sprang into the well.

Hare leaned down to look, but all he saw were bubbles. The lion was strong, but he had never learned to swim.

Hare waited for a while, but Lion never surfaced. When he knew Lion was gone for good, he hopped as quickly as he could to tell the others.

“I’ve destroyed Lion!” he proclaimed. “Now we are safe. No one will have to be breakfast from this day on.”

The others crowded around Hare and lifted him onto their shoulders. “Hooray for Hair!” they cried. as they marched through the forest.

“Now,” Hare announced, “I will be king.”

And so, from that day on, Hare became King of the Beasts.