A Black-Eyed Crow, a Fierce-Clawed Wolf, and a Wily Jackal once lived together in the service of a Lion, their King. Their home was near the highway, where caravans of traders often passed. In one of these caravans there was one day a Camel, so weary that he lay down and refused to go farther. So the traders moved on and left him by the wayside. For three days the Camel lay there, and then, feeling rested, he rose to go in search of food. He had not wandered far into the woods before he met the Lion. One glance at this noble beast assured the Camel that he was in the presence of the King. So he fell on his knees and offered him his humble services. The Lion graciously bade the Camel rise and tell him how he came to be wandering through the woods. When he had heard the tale, he said:—
"My good Camel, you are free, if you wish, to return to be the slave of your former masters, the traders; but if you live here with me, I promise that you shall have plenty to eat, and that no harm shall come upon you. It is for you to choose whether you will go or stay."
The Camel replied with no hesitation that he would be honored to stay with the Lion, and fell to eating grass without further fear of danger.
Some time after this, the Lion encountered an Elephant, and came home to his lair badly wounded. As he lay groaning upon his bed of leaves, the Black-Eyed Crow, the Fierce-Clawed Wolf, and the Wily Jackal gathered about him and began to weep. They had always fed from the game which the Lion caught, and they feared now that he would die and that they would starve to death. The good Lion, when he saw their sad faces, ceased his groaning and said:—
"My Friends, I am much sorrier for your grief than for my own wounds. Go and see if there is not a deer in the neighborhood, and chase it hither. I will go out and kill it for you, in spite of my weakness."
The three friends went off and held a council. They knew that the Lion had not strength even to slay a deer. Finally the Wolf said:—
"If I may ask, what good does this Camel do here? He is large and fat. Let us kill him, and perhaps his meat will keep the Lion alive until his wounds are healed."
But the Jackal shook his head. "The Lion has given the Camel his word that he shall be safe here from all harm. How, then, can we put him to death without any cause?"
On this the Raven, who was as hungry as the Wolf, answered:—
"Stay here, both of you! Let me go to the Lion and see if I cannot persuade him to kill the Camel."
So the Black-Eyed Crow came to the Lion. He made a deep bow and, putting on a starved look, said:—
"May it please your Majesty to let me say a few words! We, your faithful subjects, are famished almost to death, and so weak that we can scarcely crawl. But we have found a way to satisfy our hunger, if only you will give us leave to prepare a feast."
"And what feast is this?" inquired the Lion.
"Sir," said the Crow, "you recall the Camel who wandered into your kingdom some time ago. He lives now like a hermit, never coming near us, nor doing any one any good. How much better it would be for you and for us if we should kill and eat him. I am doctor enough to know that camel meat is the best food for you at this time."
The Lion, who was truly a good beast, was greatly angered at these words. "Wicked bird," he roared, "to try to make me faithless to my promises! Begone from my sight!"
The Crow went back to his friends greatly disappointed. Again they took counsel, and at last the Crow said:—
"I have another plan. Let us find the stupid Camel and go together before the King. We will then thank him for his kindness to us, and say that as we have hitherto lived entirely upon his bounty, it is now time that we gave up our lives for him. The Camel will perchance follow our example, and when he has offered himself, we will take him at his word."
They all agreed to this scheme, and went in search of the Camel. When they had come into the Lion's lair, the Black-Eyed Crow stepped forward first.
"Your Majesty," he said, "your life is so much more precious than mine, that I wish to offer my poor body to you to appease your hunger."
"What a meagre mouthful you offer to the King!" cried the Wily Jackal, feigning disgust. "You have only a dried skin and a bundle of bones to give. I am larger, and am as eager as you to give my life for our dear monarch. Let me therefore be served to-day for your Majesty's dinner."
"My beloved King," said the Fierce-Clawed Wolf, now stepping forward in his turn, "these friends are speaking from the kindness of their hearts, but what real good could they do you? Think for a moment of my size, and you will see that I would make a feast worthy of a king. I will gladly give my life to save yours."
The simple-minded Camel now arose from his knees and spoke:—
"I, too, would gladly show my gratitude for all that the King has done for me. You three together are not enough to satisfy the King's hunger. I alone am sufficient to restore the King to health."
"The Camel is right," cried the other three in one voice, and they fell upon him before he could utter another word.