Androclus shivered as another icy drop of water dripped onto his face. He looked up at the cave roof above his head. Another drop plopped down onto the rocky shelf beside him.
Androclus drew his cloak around his shoulders and wrapped his arms around himself trying to keep warm.
It was no use trying to sleep in this cave, he thought miserably. At least the soldiers who were out hunting for him would not find him in here, and maybe the lions would not find him either. Well, Androclus hoped so. The last thing he wanted was for a ferocious lion to come into the cave. The animal would probably be hungry, and then... Androclus did not want to think about what would happen.
'At least I'm free now,' Androclus thought, trying to cheer himself up.
One thing he knew for certain - his cruel master, Publius Sirius, would not be able to give him a beating today and then send him off, sore and aching, to do a day's hard labour in his vineyards. Androclus had hated his master ever since the day Publius had bought him in the slave market in Rome.
Four years passed before Androclus managed to escape from Publius's farm. Now, hiding inside the cave, Androclus thought over the plans he had made to get away from Italy. He would stay in the cave until it grew dark. The soldiers Publius had sent to catch him would not be looking for him at night. Then Androclus planned to leave the cave and make his way to the coast. There, he hoped to find a boat and sail back to his home in Greece.
Androclus looked at the shafts of light that were coming into the cave. The sun seemed to be low in the sky now. It might be dark soon.
"I must have a look," Androclus murmured. He peered out of the cave entrance. "Good," he said seeing the deep blue of the sky. "An hour or so, and the sun will set."
Suddenly, as he was turning to go back into the cave, Androclus saw the lion. His skin prickled with fright. He gave a start as a low, growling roar came from the lion's throat. It stood only a few metres away from him. It was a powerful creature, with a ?owing mane and a great swishing tail. There was something strange, though. Surely the lion would have noticed Androclus by now?
However, it seemed to be more concerned with its front paw, which it was holding off the ground and licking from time to time. Every now and then, it gave a sort of whining howl, as if it was in pain.
When Androclus looked at the paw, he saw why. It was very swollen and rather black in colour. Quite obviously, it hurt a great deal. Androclus felt great pity for the wounded creature. He wanted to help, but it was a great risk.
Androclus was very soft-hearted. He loved animals and could not bear to see even a fierce lion suffering. His mind was made up quickly. Moving carefully, Androclus approached the lion. The lion was sitting down now, whining and licking its paw. As it heard Androclus creep closer, it looked up. Androclus saw that instead of the wild, ferocious glare lions usually had, this one was looking at him pleadingly as if it wanted help.
Very slowly, Androclus stretched out his hand and stroked the lion's mane. To his relief, the lion let him do it.
"That's a bad paw you've got there, poor old fellow," Androclus murmured.
"Let's have a look at it - all right, I won't hurt you!"
The lion gave a howl as Androclus touched its paw. For one terrible moment, Androclus thought it was going to attack him. But it looked sadly at Androclus and the howl became a whine. Androclus carefully lifted the lion's front leg and looked closely at the injured paw.
There was a large, sharp spike embedded in one of the pads. It looked like a large thorn or a piece of metal.
"That's got to come out," said Androclus. It was best to do it quickly.
Androclus grabbed the spike and pulled hard. As he did so, the lion gave a deafening roar.
Androclus went back into the cave to fetch some water from one of the many puddles that lay on the floor inside. Androclus tore his cloak into two long strips, soaked them in the ice-cold water and went outside again.
For the next few minutes, Androclus bathed his swollen paw and wrapped it up in the long, wet-strips of cloth. All the time, the lion watched him. Now and then it let out a sound rather like a purr. After a while, the swelling in the paw seemed to go down a bit and it did not look quite so black as before. Androclus felt thankful, too, to see that there was less pain in the lion's eyes.
Finally, he made a pad out of one of the wet strips of cloth, placed it over the wound and then wrapped the paw in another strip.
"That will protect it until it heals," he told the lion. 'In a strange way,'
Androclus thought, 'the lion seems to understand.' The lion was obviously feeling a lot better. It got up on three legs and began to hobble around. It hobbled forward a few steps and before long, the lion was moving along the rocky path, away from where Androclus stood watching it.
Then the lion began to move more quickly until it disappeared over a small hillock.
What Androclus did not know as he watched the lion was that three soldiers were watching him. They had spotted Androclus outside the cave and crept up unseen while he was tending the lion. Now the soldiers were hiding behind rocks further up the hill, waiting until the lion disappeared from sight.
"All right," one of the soldiers muttered to the others when the lion had gone. "Let's grab him!"
Androclus heard the soldiers as they scrambled from behind the rock, but by the time he started to run away, it was too late. One of the soldiers grabbed Androclus round the waist and threw him on to the rocky ground. The other two held him down, while the soldier tied his wrists together with rope.
Androclus felt like weeping. It was so unjust that his act of kindness towards the lion should end like this.
One of the soldiers gave Androclus a rough push.
"Your master, Publius Sirius, wants to see you," he told Androclus. "He's got a very special punishment for runaway slaves!"
"What is it? What's going to happen to me?" Androclus gasped, knowing how cruel Publius Sirius was.
The soldiers laughed. "You'll see!" they sneered. "And when you do, you'll be sorry you ever thought of running away."
Three Weeks later, Androclus sat on the floor of a large underground cellar with his hands chained to a ring that was sunk into the stone wall. Nearby sat another man, chained in the same way, and next to him, another. From above their heads, they could all hear the crowd chattering and laughing in their seats around the amphitheatre. From the excitement in their voices, it was clear that the crowd expected good, blood thirsty sport. After all, it wasn't everyday that runaway slaves and ferocious lions were put into the arena together. Emperor Tiberius himself was coming to watch.
This was certainly a special punishment, just as Publius Sirius had planned. 'This time,' Androculus thought grimly, 'there is no hope of escape.' There was a sudden burst of cheering from above, in the amphitheatre. "The Emperor's arrived," the man next to Androclus whispered. "It won't be long now!"
A few moments later, the bolts on the cellar door were drawn back and the door creaked open. A troop of soldiers marched in and started unchaining Androclus and the other slaves. They were pushed into the centre of the cellar and a large grille at the end was pulled up. Beyond it lay the sand-covered arena, the eagerly awaiting crowd of spectators - and the lions. Androclus felt sag sharp push in his back and he stumbled forward. With the other slaves, he emerged into the brilliant sunshine that filled the arena. As the crowd spotted them, they let out a great yell of excitement.
There was a scraping sound from across the arena and a grille at the opposite end moved up. At once, ten or twelve lions came bounding out and started racing across the sand to where the slaves stood, petri?ed with fear.
The first lion to reach them leapt upwards and Androculus got a quick glimpse of the underneath of its belly as it landed on a slave and knocked him to the ground. Androclus and the rest of the slaves started to run. They ran out into the centre or round the sides of the arena.
The crowd shouted and clapped as they watched. They laughed at those slaves who tried to climb the walls in an attempt to escape, only to have lions leap up at them and pull them back.
Suddenly, Androclus saw a lion leap towards him. He tried to get out of the way, but the great animal was upon him before he could do so. Androclus felt the hot pain as the lion's claws tore into his arm. Any moment now, and Androclus would feel the lion's sharp, curved fangs sinking into his ?esh.
But nothing like that occurred. Instead, to Androclus' amazement, the lion started licking the scratches on his arm. The crowd saw what was happening, and their shouts of excitement turned to shouts of astonishment.
When the lion had finished licking Androclus' arm, it lay down next to him and put its paw across his chest, as if to protect him.
Even the Emperor Tiberius was on his feet, mouth wide open with amazement. Nothing like this had ever been seen in the amphitheatre before.
Androclus put his hands up and turned the lion's face towards him. "I know you," Androclus said. "And you haven't forgotten me."
The lion purred as Androclus lifted its paw and looked at it. There, sure enough, was a small, round hole in one of the pads. This was the lion Androclus had tended at the cave. Now it was showing how grateful it was. Not only had the lion not killed Androclus, but it was growling fiercely at the other lions.
The whole amphitheatre was in an uproar now. The Emperor ordered the animal keepers to drive the other lions back into their cellar. The slaves who were unharmed stood and wept with relief at their unexpected escape from death.
Androclus got to his feet, and dusted the sand off his tunic. The lion sat meekly beside him, looking up at him with adoring eyes. Everyone in the crowd was clapping. Even the Emperor joined in, and a tremendous cheering broke out as Androclus walked round the ring with the lion following him like a faithful dog.
Emperor Tiberius was so amused that he gave Androclus his freedom.
"A man who can tame the wildest of beasts cannot be a slave," the Emperor told the delighted Androclus.
Androclus was even more delighted when the Emperor let him keep the lion as his own. Afterwards, the two of them became well known in Rome.
Wherever Androclus went, the lion went too. No one was afraid to meet them in the street, even when Androclus did not put the lion on a lead. After all, wasn't it the tamest lion ever seen in Rome?