Fable 199 - The Lion, the Fox and the Stag
The Lion had fallen ill and was resting in a cave. He said to the fox, who was his friend and with whom he did a bit of
business from time to time:
‘If you want me to live and be fierce again, go and beguile with honeyed words the big stag who lives in the forest, bring him to me
so that I can get my paws on him. For I long to sink my teeth into his entrails and to eat his heart.’
The fox took himself off into the country and found the stag, who was leaping about in the forest. He approached the stag with a
fond air, saluted him respectfully and said:
“I come to announce good news. You know that our king, the lion, is my neighbor. He is now very ill and on the point of death.
He is demanding to know which animal will reign after him. The wild boar is lacking in all intelligence, the bear is awkward, the
panther is irascible, the tiger boastful. Only the stag is dignified enough to reign. For he is the tallest and the longest-lived and,
besides, his horn is deadly to snakes. But why go on any more? He has decided that you should become king. But now that I have
brought you this good news, what may I have for being the bearer of it? Speak, for I am in the most terrible hurry, as I am afraid
His Majesty will call me back. He cannot do without my counsel.
‘If you would wish to listen to the words of an old fox, I would advise you to come with me and wait nearby for His Majesty’s death.’
Thus spoke the fox. The stag’s hear swelled with vanity at these words and he went to the cave without suspecting what would
happen. Then the lion leaped at him headlong. However, he merely managed to tear the stag’s ears with his claws. The stag saved
himself and flex with all haste to the woods.
The fox clapped his hands in dismay at the loss of all his labour and the lion began to moan and make great roars, for he was
overcome with hunger as well as with sorrow. He begged the fox to devise another way to beguile the stag.
The fox replied:
‘It is an arduous and difficult task that you ask of me. Nevertheless, I will serve you once more.’
And then, like a hound he followed the scent of the stag towards the forest, plotting deceit as he ran. He stopped to ask some
shepherds if they had seen a bleeding stag. They pointed towards his resting place in the wood. The fox came upon the stag resting
to get his second wind and presented himself shamelessly to him. The stag, full of anger and with his fur all splattered with blood, cursed him:
‘You scoundrel, you will never get me to go to the lion’s den again. If you so much as come near me once more you will pay with
your life. Go and fox others who don’t know you. Go and choose other beasts to make into kings and get them all excited about it!’
The fox replied:
‘Are you so cowardly and faint-hearted? Is this distrust the reward that you give us, your good friends? The lion, in taking hold of
your ear, was going to give you counsel and instruct you on the matter of your regal duties, in the manner of someone about to die.
But you, you cannot even take a scratch from the paw of a sick lion! At the moment His Majesty is angrier than you are and wants
to elevate the wolf to the kingship.’
And the fox continued:
‘Alas! My poor wretched master! But come, do not be afraid. Be as meek as a lamb. For, I swear by all the leaves of the trees
and by all the springs that you have absolutely no cause to fear the lion. As for me, my only wish is to serve you.’
In thus deceiving the unfortunate stag, the fox induced him once more to go to the cave of the lion. When the stag entered the lion’s
cave, the lion had him for supper. He swallowed all the bones, all the marrow and the entrails. The fox stood there watching him.
The stag’s heart fell to the ground. The fox snatched it and ate it to compensate himself for all his efforts. But the lion, having looked
around for every morsel, could not find the heart, and asked where it was.
The fox keeping his distance, said:
‘The truth is, the stag had no heart. Don’t even bother to look for it. For how could an animal be said to have a heart who
has gone twice into a lion’s den and encountered the paws of a lion?’
Thus love of honour confuses Reason and closes the eyes to imminent danger.