There was once a poor man who cut and sold wood in order to earn a living but no matter how hard he worked he never made enough money to buy all the food his family needed. Day after day, watching his children grow pale and thin, he became so discouraged he decided to end his life.
He went to a cave where he knew a lion lived and stood outside of it. “Lion, please come eat me.”
The lion, amazed at the request, asked, “Why do you ask such a thing of me?”
The man told him of his plight and added, “If I die, perhaps my wife will find a new husband who can take better care of her and the children.”
The lion listened, then said, “If it is only money that keeps you from wanting to live, take this gold coin.” He threw the man more money than he saw in a year. Thanking him, the woodcutter rushed to the market and bought as much food for his family in one day as he’d been able to buy in a month. Though his wife was careful, eventually they spent all the money. Once again there was not enough food to feed the family.
Once again, the woodcutter went to the lion, begging him to eat him. Once again, the lion threw him a gold coin. In time, the man’s wife said, “The lion has been so good to us. I think we should invite him to dinner to show him how grateful we are.”
The man was not so sure. “He’s a lion. We don’t know what he likes to eat. Perhaps we should think of another way to thank him.”
But his wife persuaded him. The next day the woodcutter went to the lion. “My wife and I would be very pleased if you would come to our home for dinner.”
“Thank you. I shall be delighted,” said the lion with such joy the man forgot his misgivings. The next day his wife spent all day preparing the most delicious meal she knew how to cook. The children cleaned the house. The man chopped enough wood to make a splendid fire.
At the appointed time, the lion knocked on the door and was ushered in by the family who kept telling him how grateful they were for his help. The meal was a great success and the man began to relax thinking how good it was his wife had thought to invite the lion.
As the husband was showing the lion to the door, he overheard someone say, “He’s a very nice lion but he doesn’t smell very good.” Shocked, the man hoped the lion had not heard. When the lion did not react, the man sighed with relief.
Outside, the lion said to the man, “Tomorrow, come to see me. Please bring your sharpest knife. I have a favor to ask of you.”
“With pleasure,” said the man. “After all you have done for me and my family, I am happy to help you.”
The next morning the woodcutter stood in front of the cave waiting for the lion. This time, after the lion gave him a gold coin he said to the man, “I want you to take your knife and slash my face to ribbons.”
The woodcutter recoiled in horror. “I can’t do that. You’ve been so good to me and my family. Why would I want to hurt you?”
“You promised you would do as I requested,” reminded the lion. “Are you going to go back on your word?”
With a heavy heart, the man slashed the lion’s face until his face was a bloody mess. “Now, leave me,” said the lion. “Return in two weeks.”
When the man returned the lion said to him, “My head heals. My heart still hurts.”
Wit and wisdom from around the world and through the ages. Tales by Nancy King.