In ancient Rome there lived a poor slave named Androcles. His cruel master made him work from daybreak until long past nightfall. Androcles had very little time to rest and very little to eat. One day, he decided to run away from his harsh master, even though he would be breaking the law.
In the dark of night, Androcles got up from the miserable heap of straw and rags that served as his bed. Crouching low so he was no taller than the bushes that dotted the fields, the young slave moved swiftly away from his master's land.
Clouds covered the moon that night, and Androcles crossed the open fields unseen. It was only when he came to the wild woods that Androcles dared to stand up tall again.
Androcles found a sheltered place at the foot of a tall tree. There he lay himself down and fell fast asleep.
When Androcles awoke, he hiked deeper into the woods so he wouldn't be found by his master. There he looked for water and something to eat. But other than a few berries, there was no food to be found.
Day after day, Androcles searched for food. And day after day, he went hungry. Androcles grew so weary and weak that at last he was afraid he wouldn't live through the night. He had just enough strength to creep up to the mouth of a cave that he had passed many times. Androcles crawled into the cave and fell into a deep sleep.
As Androcles lay sleeping, a lion was hunting in the woods nearby. The lion caught a small animal for his supper. He ate his meal beside a stream in the woods. Then he set off for his cave as the morning began to fill the sky with light.
Just before reaching the cave where Androcles slept, the lion stepped on the fallen branch of a thorn tree. A large thorn went deep into his paw.
The lion let out an angry roar, which woke Androcles with a terrible start. From the mouth of the cave, Androcles could see the lion rolling on the ground in pain. The lion's roars echoed loudly in the cave.
Androcles was terrified that the lion would attack him. But the lion held out his hurt paw to Androcles. Even from a distance, Androcles could see the large thorn in the lion's paw.
Androcles found some courage and came closer. He slowly sat down on the ground near the beast. To Androcles' astonishment, the huge lion flopped his great paw into the young man's lap. He could tell that this beast was in great pain and needed help.
Androcles spoke soothing words to the lion as he carefully pulled the thorn from the lion's paw. "Don't worry, handsome lion. We'll have this thorn out in no time," he said softly. The lion seemed to understand that Androcles was helping him. When the thorn was gone, the lion rubbed his head against Androcles' shoulder and purred a rumbling purr.
Androcles was no longer afraid of the lion. The lion was very grateful to Androcles for pulling the thorn out of his paw, and didn't even mind that Androcles had moved into his cave. They became fast friends.
The lion slept most of the day. And at night, he hunted for food while Androcles slept. In the morning, the lion would bring fresh meat to Androcles, who would build a little fire to cook his newly caught meal.
Every morning after Androcles ate, he and the lion played for a while in the woods nearby. The lion showed Androcles how much he liked him by rubbing his head against the man and licking his hands and feet. Androcles scratched the lion behind the ears and petted his sleek back.
One morning, as Androcles was cooking what the lion had brought him, four soldiers suddenly appeared and surprised him.
"We saw the smoke from your fire," they said. "We have come to arrest you for running away from your master."
Androcles did not know what to do. He tried to run from the soldiers, but they were too fast for him. Two soldiers sprinted after Androcles. When they caught him, they tied his hands behind his back.
Androcles cried out as the soldiers tried to carry him off.
The lion awoke with a start. Before he could get to his feet to help Androcles, the other two soldiers threw a strong rope net over him. They attached the ends of the net to two stout poles and carried the angry lion out of the woods.
Learn what happened next to Androcles and the lion on the following page.