There was a lion, the king of his forest, who could breathe in winter and exhale summer. His full mane showed him to be young and strong. His long claws suggested him to be skilled and agile. His sharp teeth spoke for themselves.
The lion often sat at the edge of his forest and watched the people living their lives in their nearby village. He loved them in his way, magnanimously allowing them to hunt in his forests and to take their sheep to pasture without fear.
One day, the village woodcutter answered his door to find the lion waiting on the other side.
“Woodcutter,” began the lion, “by my eyes your fair daughter has filled the belly of my heart with so much love that I would take her to wife.”
The woodcutter had old-fashioned ideas about lions, and decided he did not trust the lion not to eat up his daughter. Still, those old-fashioned ideas did not allow him to refuse the lion outright. Instead he thought quickly of a piece of cunning.
“Oh, Lion,” began the woodcutter, “your proposal is a rare honor upon my humble house. Gladly would I give you my daughter, but you are not yet presentable. Every bridegroom must be at his best, and lions are no exception. Comb out your mane that you may cut a fine figure by your bride. Cut back your claws that you may take her hand without harm. File down your teeth, for your grin - while toothsome - is fearsome. Do these things and any maid would have sunshine in her heart to take you in her arms.”
The lion considered combing out his mane.
Surely, if I comb out my mane I will lose at least half by its being pulled out at the root. If I lose even half my mane I will appear old and weak to the other beasts of the wild. Yet this is vanity, pride. What creature has need of pride with such as she as the bride by my side? Besides, my mane will grow back with time.
The lion considered cutting back his claws.
Surely, if I cut back my claws it will be difficult to hunt for our daily needs. If I cannot hunt with ease I will appear callow and clumsy to the other beasts of the wild. Yet this is vanity, pride. What creature has need of pride with such as she as the bride by my side? Besides, my claws will grow back with time.
The lion considered filing down his teeth.
Surely, if I file down my teeth they will lose their silent eloquence. If they lose their silent eloquence I may prove myself a fool to the other beasts of the wild with time, and my teeth will never grow back. Still, I love her. What creature would not make some small, lasting sacrifice for a chance at the joy that love can bring?
“Woodcutter,” began the lion’s answer, “do but give me the tools and I will do you proud.”
The woodcutter brought the lion what was needed. The lion combed out his mane, pulling out well over half at the root. The lion cut back his claws, and his great paws seemed quite small. The lion filed down his teeth, and none who might see him would think to fear him.
“Return in three days’ time,” the woodcutter began, “and all will be made ready for you.”
Having humbled and disarmed and disabled himself, the next three days for the lion were long with hunger and derision. As for the woodcutter, the days flew by as he boasted of his cunning to his neighbors. It had been so long since anyone had spoken to a lion that they all agreed he had acted with great cunning, and prompted him to see it through when the lion returned.
The woodcutter’s daughter was too distracted to be impressed. She thought of the lion’s proposal. She thought of her father’s demands. She thought of the lion’s cooperation.
By my ears, she thought, the lion has filled the lungs of my heart with the very breath of love. She tried to tell the woodcutter, but he was stuffed to his brow with pride and would not hear.
The lion returned at the end of three days fortified by hope though weakened by hunger. At the woodcutter’s doorstep he asked for his promised bride, but she had been locked in her room.
The woodcutter brought out a broom handle and began to beat the lion who had humbled and disarmed and disabled himself for a chance at the joy that love can bring.
Defenseless against the attack, the lion retreated into his forest with a thousand times more pain in his heart than upon his hide.
The woodcutter’s daughter - forgotten by her father in the flattery of his neighbors - by great effort was able to climb out her bedroom window. She took her bow, arrow, knife and frying pan with her into the forest.
It was not long before she found the lion’s den. Many of the lion’s neighbors had come to see for themselves if he would really get his bride, and - when he hadn’t - stayed to make light of his slight. A mighty stag seemed to be leading the fray.
It was at this stag she took aim, and - with one, careful shot - felled him. The others were quick to notice and flee. The lion wondered at the sudden silence of the din outside his den. Cautiously, he looked out and saw his hoped-for bride.
“Here,” she gestured to the fallen stag, “is our wedding feast.”
In the days before the lion’s claws grew back, other beasts of the wild made themselves known to the village. None from the village dared enter the woods to hunt and all trembled to take their sheep to pasture. The woodcutter’s head hung low for shame of bringing such a fate to the village; and, his shoulders stooped with the woe of being estranged from his daughter.
When the lion’s mane was once more full, all who saw the lion with his lady saw what a fair pair they were. When the lion’s claws were once more long, his subjects were quick to note how well he could prepare a meal as though it were so many thick strips of bacon. When the lion bared his teeth to speak, his words proved him wise and kind.
In the proper time, the love of lion and lady produced a daughter of their own. They called her their little lamb; but, while other babes cooed and babbled, she growled and roared.
Every year, when the days grow colder and the nights last longer, the lion breathes in winter and exhales summer so that their den is filled with spring, moss clinging soft and drowsy to the walls. Then, they three lie wrapped in the warmth of one another’s affections: the loving lion telling tales of the beasts of the wild; the learned lady telling tales of the beasts of burden; and, the little lamb wondering when she would hear tell of the beast called man.