17th January


A lioness one day lay down in the shade of some trees to escape the after- noon heat. While she slept some elephants came wandering among the trees. One elephant was about to step on the lioness when she woke up, and roared to alert him to her presence. His front foot rested on her body, trap- ping her, but he had not yet applied his full weight, which would instantly crush her to death.

‘Spare me,’ she said. ‘You and I are the strongest, proudest, fiercest beasts in the land, yet we coexist peacefully enough. Lift your foot and I’ll leave this cool spot to you and your clan.’

‘It is nothing to me whether I kill you or let you go,’ the elephant replied. ‘You are no use to me dead, since I cannot eat you, but you lions, working together, will sometimes attack an elephant on its own, kill it and devour it. Why shouldn’t I reduce that future risk by killing you?’

‘If you ever find yourself in such circumstances,’ the lioness said, ‘I will tell the others that you spared me when you had me at your mercy.’

The elephant weighed up the arguments and decided to release the lioness, who hurried away and rejoined the pride.

Not long afterwards, on a night hunt, the pride surrounded a solitary elephant. Despite his size and strength, gradually they exhausted him, and he realised that he was in grave danger. Just then he recognised the only lion who up till then had not been clawing or biting him.

‘Traitor!’ he cried, as he sunk to his knees and the lions mauled him ever more ferociously. ‘I thought you were going to put in a good word for me.’

‘I am no traitor to you,’ the lioness replied. ‘I already pleaded your cause, but I am only one among many, and was overruled. The most I can do now is not participate in your death. However, since I accepted the majority decision, I will be allowed to share in the coming feast. You probably now wish you’d killed me when you had the chance, but it wouldn’t have made any difference to your fate. Sorry.’

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music