by Ashleigh Brush, age 12
It was a chilly, damp evening. Fog hung in the air. The forest was dark and still, and not even a bird was singing. A meadow near the side of the forest was no warmer, but it seemed to be more cheerful because a little ray of warmth and sunshine had somehow penetrated the gloom. Compassionate and friendly, the shepherd watching his sheep in this haven seemed to be responsible. He pitied the lion who came limping dejectedly into the pasture that evening. Examining the lion carefully, the shepherd discovered a thorn embedded in the disconsolate lion’s paw. He carefully pulled it out as he sang quiet, murmuring songs to the despondent lion. The lion shook his mane, stomped his paw, purred softly as if to thank his rescuer, and disappeared into the gloomy forest as if he had forgotten his rescuer entirely.
One evening in late November, soldiers rushed into the clearing, oblivious to the kindness which seemed to envelop it, and accused the shepherd of stealing some goods out of Emperor Nero’s palace. In vain the shepherd vehemently insisted that he was innocent and tried to clear himself. Befuddled, he could make no answer to the questions the soldiers savagely threw at him, and he was finally condemned to be thrown to the lions.
Long, lonely days in jail mingled with fervent prayers that he might somehow be rescued, seemingly to no avail. At first, the jailers laughed and ridiculed him, but after they experienced his kindness, they left him alone because they were confused at this strange “criminal.” The days dragged by until he was finally led down long halls to his execution.
The shepherd was thrown into a ghastly pit with a door at one end, which immediately swung open. A lion charged out, stalked around the pit, quickly noticed the shepherd, and drooling, rushed towards him. Time seemed to freeze as the lion, eyes red, stampeded toward the shepherd, opened his mouth, and roared. Suddenly the lion skidded abruptly to a halt, shook his mane, stomped his foot, and walked slowly toward the shepherd as if he and the shepherd were the best of friends. The shepherd ran toward the lion and embraced him, sobbing for joy because he recognized the lion as the huge beast he had helped a few months before.
The bewildered audience reported the incident to the emperor, who was amazed and set the shepherd and lion free when he realized that the immense audience, who witnessed the event which had transpired, would not rest until he did so. As the shepherd returned back to the meadow and the lion to the forest, they realized that a true friendship is one of the best gifts in the world.