“Hurry up, Androcles! We’re starving over here.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming. I’ve been hauling cheese over here for hours.”
The crew of mice who had taken the Lion unawares had been laboring all day. Of course, they had to wait for a number of days after its paw was impaled by the thorn-bush for the predator to pass out from exhaustion and lack of food and water.
Then they set to work.
The Lion had been ruling their realm for as long as anyone could remember. Almost everyone hated him, but they also terribly feared him, so he remained the unchallenged dictator of their land.
That is until now.
Fate and a young boy named Daniel arranged for the Lion to be left helpless. Of course, William and tiny Joey helped, but the human child was the anomaly in their world, so only he could act as the catalyst for this unprecedented event.
Androcles finally deposited the last of his cargo with the rest. He looked up and saw the Lion tied down, completely unable to move, the thorns still embedded in its left paw.
“Kind of like Gulliver in that story, eh?” Mickey quipped.
“As I recall, Gulliver eventually got free.” Androcles panted, trying to get his breath back.
“Not this time,” Minnie gleefully declared. “No one would be stupid enough to let the King get loose, not with everything that’s at stake.”
Gadget ran up to Mickey, the leader of their troop. “All bounds firmly secure sir,” she reported. “We’ve got him.”
It was little Fievel who started the cheer, “Ding, dong, the Lion’s down, beat his crown, the Lion’s down. Ding, dong, the wicked Lion’s down!”
The rest of the mice picked up the chorus and sang along, though hardly with the quality of a cinematic musical.
Hunger conquered music, and the mice broke off to gorge on their meal of assorted cheeses. Of course, they didn’t thank Androcles, even though he was the only one who was assigned the humble task of hauling the provisions while the rest of them pursued the glorious work of binding the unconscious feline.
“Nevertheless, it is better to serve,” he thought, though he only half believed it.
The mice, having consumed their well-earned meal, wandered off to either enter the sleep of the exhausted, or pair off male to female and continue the celebration by mating.
Androcles was left to watch guard over the King.
“Easy duty,” Stuart said.
“It’s an honor,” called back Monterrey Jack with the lovely Gadget on his arm.
And then they were gone and Androcles was alone with the Lion.
The Lion whimpered and moaned, from pain as much as from hunger and thirst. The Lion had done terrible things. He was above consuming little mice, but he directed his cats and his Merlin falcons to do so. Thousands of Androcles’ friends and relatives went that way. His dear mother went that way.
Mother. She always taught him to be kind. She said kindness was especially important in a cruel world.
The Lion. He was suffering. How long could even he last without water?
The mouse found a bowl and filled it from a nearby stream. He placed it gingerly near the Lion’s mussel. The Lion’s eyes fluttered. They weren’t glowing now, just ordinary green cat eyes.
After several minutes, the King gathered his strength to drink. He passed out, then woke up, and then drank some more.
Androcles gathered a bit of food for the King. It wasn’t much, but he felt he needed to do something a little more.
The King ate. He gathered some of his lost strength.
“Thank you,” the King said to the humble mouse. Honored, the mouse bowed.
“Oh, the pain. My paw.”
The King’s paw was swollen, possibly infected. He was securely tied up. Surely the Lion would pose no new threat to the realm if the thorn were removed.
It was harder than it looked. The nimble mouse wound its way into the bush, disentangled most of the King’s paw, but when he tried to pull out the main thorn, it broke off.
The King was feverish and weakening. Androcles dug deep into the paw and with his own, managed to grab onto the portion of the thorn embedded within. With all the strength a mouse can muster, he pulled and pulled, and finally the thorn came free, along with blood and pus from the paw.
For days, Androcles administered water, food, and herbs to treat the wound. Who knows where the rest of the mice went? Androcles supposed they’d abandoned both him and the King, presuming the King to have died and the mouse to have found other pursuits in that eventuality.
The King began to recover a little. He moaned, then opened its eyes, and then thanked the noble mouse once more.
“Your reward will be great in my Kingdom,” said the weary and wounded Lion. “You have been the only one to show me kindness, in spite of all my crimes.”
Androcles had done it. He had found the spark of goodness in the King’s previously evil heart.
“If only I could move a bit more freely. It’s so difficult to breathe. The bonds are so tight.”
The mouse was hesitant, but they’d come so far together.
“Just a little. I promise that one so kind will never come to harm by my hand.”
Androcles looked left and right, forward and back. Not a mouse or any other creature in sight. Surely this would not end badly for him or the realm. The mouse would be a hero, the one who turned the King from darkness to light.
He nibbled at several key bonds, loosening the rope from the spikes holding them down. The King was still somewhat restrained but more able to…
A mighty paw slammed Androcles to the ground.
Androcles managed to move his head just enough to look back into the eyes of the King, now once again glowing a malevolent green.
“I do thank you Androcles, for your magnificent gullibility. Of course, I am also grateful to the total neglect of your companions. Not one of them checked back to see if my assumed demise was assured. Now only yours is.”
“But…but my kindness…”
“Was totally wasted on me. You should have learned from bitter experience that I take advantage of weakness. I don’t let myself become influenced by it. However, in your case, I shall be merciful.”
Androcles began to hope.
The King consumed him in a single gulp. The mouse became a digesting snack in the Lion’s stomach before Androcles realized it. The King’s mercy in action.
The Lion burst free from the rest of his bonds. Still weak, he needed to seek easy prey, regain his strength and vigor. It might take days, even weeks.
“But then, my foes, especially you mice…but then beware the wrath of the King. You Daniel. I shall find you, for you are the only one who can truly defeat me. You I shall find, and end you once and for all.”
Someplace else, for no reason he could imagine, Daniel felt a cold shiver travel down his spine.
This concept is loosely based on Iain Kelly’s recent A to Z Challenge 2017 story series. Every day, Iain crafted another puzzle piece to his murder mystery that had me and his other readers spellbound. I doubt I can create the suspense he conjured up, but when my wife got a giant A to Z jigsaw puzzle for our two-year-old granddaughter, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I don’t have a lot of time, so I think each “letter” will be shorter and I’m not sure I can write one every day, but I’ll do my best.
The previous story is L is for Lion.
The next story in the series is N is for Net.
Let me know what you think.
On my visit to my Mom’s place, I managed to get a little time to myself to craft the next chapter in my A to Z challenge. “M is for Mouse” is the last photo I had with me, so I won’t be able to continue the series until I return home, probably Saturday at the earliest. Hang in there. The rest of the tales are coming soon.