The Prince And The Lions

Many, many long years ago, the crown prince of Persia was handsome, intelligent and kind-hearted, but alas, he was a coward. When he was twenty, his father, the King, died, and preparations were made for the crown prince to be crowned.

But in ancient Persia, there was a custom that the future ruler had to prove his courage by fighting a ferocious lion in the arena. The public was invited to this savage spectacle, which had to take place one week before the coronation.

The mere thought of facing a lion frightened the prince until he could neither eat nor sleep. If he did manage to fall asleep, he would have terrible nightmares of roaring man-eating lions and wake up screaming.

His horror grew daily, and ultimately, the crown prince decided to flee. So one night, he saddled his favourite horse and silently rode away from the palace.

For days he travelled through. The countryside, staying at wayside inns, letting it be known that he was but a merchant. Then one day, the prince came to a delightful valley of rich green fields, ornate trees and an endless variety of colourful wildflowers.

A shepherd boy sat in a nearby pasture, studded with grazing sheep, whiling away the time by playing lilting tunes on a flute.

Riding up to the boy, the prince asked him where to obtain shelter for the night.

“My master is a good man,” replied the boy. “His house is over yonder, and he always makes strangers welcome.”

When the prince arrived at the house of the boy’s master, he was indeed made welcome, and it was such a happy and peaceful household the prince resolved to stay for several days.

Each morning the prince would roam the countryside with the shepherd boy, tending the flock of sheep, and would be content for hours listening to the many tunes the boy played on his flute.

Late one afternoon, as the prince and the shepherd boy were sitting under a tree, they heard shouts in the distance Lion!, Lion!, Lion!

“Let us go and help to kill the lion,” cried the boy eagerly. But the prince was paralysed with fear and begged the boy to stay. But the boy, who had no fear of wild animals, jumped to his feet and ran across the fields, anxious not to miss the thrill of a lion hunt.

The prince trembling in every limb, climbed the tree under which they had been sitting and took refuge in the leafy branches well above the ground.

Later the prince heard triumphant shouts and, from his hiding place, could see the villagers wending their way home with the dead lion slung on a pole.

The prince was shamed for his conduct. Here he was, a grown man, terrified at mentioning the word lion, whilst a young boy eagerly ran to hunt the lion.

Stricken with re- morse, the prince, without a farewell to anyone, mounted his horse and rode away.

On his travels, the prince encountered a troop of soldiers searching for a lion that had caused a lot of havoc in nearby villages.

The troop commander invited the prince to join them, and he could hardly refuse. As they rode along, the prince marvelled at how these soldiers could be happy to face a ferocious lion without reward when he could not face one even to gain a kingdom.

Sad in spirit, the prince deliberately lagged behind the troop of soldiers and, when he saw the opportunity, turned his horse into the forest and gladly galloped away.

Eventually, the prince came to a small kingdom ruled by a king with a lovely daughter. Here again, the prince found a ready welcome.

The princess was a delightful companion, and the prince soon found a new sense of happiness. One evening as they were idly talking, the prince was startled by a roar in the adjoining room.

“Good heavens, what was that?” cried the prince.

“That was only my black fellow yawning,” smiled the princess.

The prince thought that the princess meant it was some negro servant, and he was happy to dismiss that disquieten- ing roar from his mind.

As they said goodnight, the princess opened the adjoining room door. The prince was petrified with fright. There, staring at him, was the enormous lion he had never imagined!

“Do not be frightened,” begged the princess. It is as tame as a dog. stroke him.”

With the princess at his side, the prince found new courage and soon petted the lion, which was as playful as a puppy.

That very night the prince realised what an abject fool he had been and decided to return to his kingdom immediately and face a dozen lions if necessary.

When he returned to his palace, everyone was overjoyed to see him and was gladly surprised when he said he would face the lion in the arena at dawn the following day.

The prince felt no qualms when he walked into the arena, armed with a short spear and a shield. When the lion was released from its cage, it made straight for the prince.

Unmoved, the prince stood his ground, ready for the encounter. But to his surprise, when the lion came close, it waved its tail and purred like a cat. It was a tame, friendly beast.

This secret of a tame lion had been kept from the prince by ancient custom.

At the prince’s coronation, all those who had befriended him in his wanderings were invited, including the shepherd boy and the lovely princess.

Many costly gifts were presented to the newly crowned ruler. He said when the King, the princess’s father, bowed before the throne. “Your majesty, the most precious gift I can offer is my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

This was the greatest gift. And after their marriage, the King and his Queen ruled the kingdom wisely and well, be-loved by all their subjects.

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