Long, long ago, there lived in the thick of the forest a Lion so huge and fearful that he had only to let out a roar for all the other animals to start trembling in fright like aspen leaves. And whenever he was out hunting he would tear to pieces everyone he came across and scatter them all around him so that a herd of wild pigs even was not safe from him. Few could rim away from the Lion, but no matter how many animals he killed he would eat no more than one.
The animals lived in constant fear for their lives. One day, feeling that such a state of affairs could not be allowed to go on, they got together in order to decide what to do.
The Bear was the first to speak.
"Listen to me, friends!" he said. "The Lion kills no fewer than ten of us daily, and sometimes as many as twenty, but he eats up no more than one or two, at most, which means that nearly all of us die in vain. I suggest that we reason with him and make him change his ways.”
"Just you try and do that!" the Wolf burst in. "He'll never listen to us. What's more, he'll kill those we send to him."
"I disagree!" the Bear declared. "The question is whom we are to send."
"Why don't you go, Bear?" the Wolf said. "You are the biggest and strongest of us."
"My being strong isn’t going to save me from the Lion's claws," the Bear returned. "Better if you go, Wolf, you are much quicker than I."
"That isn't going to save me if the Lion runs after me. We must think of a better way of doing this."
The Deer stepped forward and said: "The only thing I can think of is to be very polite with the Lion and not anger him by word or deed."
'Well, seeing that you are so wise, what's stopping you from speaking to him yourself, Deer?" his friends asked.
'Oh, no, I couldn't! I only wanted to say that the Lion isn’t one of us,
and talking to him won't be easy."
' True. But then who is to go?"
"Why not the Fox? She is sly and ought to be able to get on the good side of the Lion."
"A good idea! The Fox can do it if anyone can."
They called the Fox, and the Bear said to her:
"We have decided that you must go and talk to the Lion, Foxy. You
know only too well how many of us he has killed!"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean I want to talk to him any more than the rest of you do. Why can't we cast lots and let chance decide which of us is to do it?"
"No, Foxy, that won't do at all," the Bear said. "What if the lot falls to someone who is too timid or silly to know what to say? Instead of getting the Lion to soften towards us he might anger him even more! We have definitely decided to send you, and go you shall. We'll kill you if you don't!"
Now, this made the Fox quite unhappy, for whether she went and talked to the Lion or not seemed equally dangerous. So she thought and she thought and then she said:
"Oh, very well, I'll go if I must!"
And off she set. She feared the Lion far too much to come near him, and as she wandered around the forest kept thinking how to trick him and avoid being killed by him.
She had not gone far before she stumbled upon a well.
"I had far rather drown myself in the well," said she to herself, "than give myself up alive to that horrid old Lion and be torn to pieces!"
She walked all around the well, sniffed and looked down into it, and oh how surprised she was to see a Fox like herself gazing up at her from the water! She nodded her head and stuck out her tongue, and the other Fox did the same.
"I do believe that is my reflection in the water I see there!" she cried. "I think I know now how to fool the Lion."
And off she made straight for the Lion's den. Night was drawing on, but she was far more cheerful now and walked quickly.
The Lion's thunderous roars soon reached her ear, and there he was before her. Frightened despite herself, she said with a bow:
"Pray bid me speak, Your Lordship, that I may explain what has brought me here. It was like this, Your Lordship. The animals of this forest knew it was your birthday and sent me and two rabbits early this morning to wish you many happy returns of the day. But we had not gone far when we met a beast who looked very much like you. He stopped us and asked where we were going, and when I told him we were on our way to wish you a happy birthday, he became very angry. He said that it was he who was lord of the forest and not you, that all who lived here had to bow to his will and that he would not let us go any farther. ’But,’ said I, ’the Lion might kill us for this! It's his birthday, and he’s expecting us.’ And can you imagine, Your Lordship, he said: 'What's it to me that it’s his birthday! I'll eat him up, that’s what I'll do!' It took me half the day to persuade him to let me go — me alone, the rabbits were forced to stay with him.”
Now, this made the Lion so angry that he forgot how hungry he was.
"Where does that beast live?" he roared.
"Quite near here. In a stone palace.”
The Lion jumped up in a rage and gave such a roar that it echoed over the Whole forest. It was as if another lion were roaring at the other erid of it.
"Do you hear him roar, Your Lordship? He is teasing you,” the Fox said.
The Lion became angrier than ever.
"I'll tear the wretch to pieces!” he roared. "How dare he oppose me? This forest is mine. Come, take me to him at once!"
The Fox led the Lion to the well.
They came within sight of it, and the Lion asked the Fox to show him where his enemy was hiding.
"He is in that stone palace over there," said the Fox, pointing at the well. "But I don't want to come any closer, I'm afraid he might eat me up. You will see him if you bend down over the well.'
The Lion came up to the well, he bent over it, and what did he see there but another Lion looking up at him! He gnashed his teeth, and the other Lion gnashed his. So then he let out a great roar and leapt down into the well. There was a splash, and he found himself in the water! And the well being wide and its stone walls very smooth, he could not climb out of it and drowned.
The Fox, who had witnessed it all, ran off at once to tell the other animals about it. She beamed as she neared them, and they knew it was glad tidings she was bringing them.
"Have you seen the Lion or haven’t you?” they asked her.
"I have, I have! But you can forget all about him now, for he is dead. And you know why? Because I tricked him.”
"You tricked him? How did you do that?"
The Fox told them all about everything, and when they had heard her out they began dancing about in joy. Neither tongue can tell nor pen can write how happy they were!