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Excerpt from
The Greatest Lion
A Children's Book by Chilton Williamson, Jr.

Chapter 2

The Lions found themselves in a country ruled by a very bad man who believed he was King of Everything, including the Beasts. That angered The Lion, the true King of Beasts, who would have eaten him on the spot if he'd been given the chance. But The Lions were carefully guarded, and escape seemed impossible. Even so, the Man Who Called Himself King had many enemies. No one seemed to have a good thing to say about him, including Ali, the boy who had the job of feeding The Lions. Ali always muttered to himself when he brought them meat and water each day, complaining that the zoo animals ate better than he and his family did.

The Lion, who had stale beef to eat now instead of fresh zebra, didn't feel sorry for him. He hated the zoo and what he could see of the shabby, dusty city beyond it. The Lion spent much of his time in the concrete den at the back of the lion cage, lying with his head between his paws and trying to imagine he was back home on the veldt beneath the snows of Kilimanjaro. The Lioness did what she could to make their house a home, placing the gnawed beef bones in a neat pile at front of the cage for Ali to collect each morning, and sweeping the cement floor clean with her tail. But The Lion would not be comforted.

In the cage next door to The Lions lived a tiger and a tigress from India. The Lion and the tiger argued constantly about which of them was greater, the two pacing up and down on either side of the bars and roaring at one other. The Lion called the tiger a dope, and the tiger called The Lion a jerk. The Lion was so astonished he stopped pacing and lashing his tail, and forgot even to roar. "'Lion' and 'jerk,'" he explained in a dignified way to the tiger, "are two words that should never be used in the same sentence."

The Lions had been captives in the Zoo for several months when they became aware of strange happenings in the city beyond. Trucks full of soldier men wearing turbans on their heads rolled by in the streets. The spring sky was filled with airplanes and smoke, and loud booming sounds shook the ground. As King of the Beasts, The Lion paid no attention to any of these events until, one afternoon, Ali failed to show up with his and The Lioness's supper. By feeding time the next day, there were no people left in the Zoo, only a lot of hungry and very thirsty animals. The Lion and The Lioness cracked the dried beef bones with their teeth and sucked out the marrow to eat, and they lapped up the rainwater that fell from passing thunderstorms. Still, their ribs showed through their dull and patchy coats and they were nearly dead from thirst when some soldier men appeared. This time, they drove water trucks and delivery vans and had on camoflage helmets instead of turbans. The word passed quickly among the animals in the Zoo that these soldiers were from another country far away, and that they brought fresh water and food with them. The Lioness was so happy she cried. But The Lion remained suspicious right up to the time when two of the soldier men, who called themselves Colonel and Sergeant, marched up to the cage, inserted a key in the lock, and swung the heavy door open. Colonel and Sergeant announced respectfully that The Lions had been liberated in the name of the King of the far-away country, and were free to come and go now as they pleased. (The Lion couldn't help noticing that, although the soldiers set the tigers next door free as well, they were not nearly so respectful, which pleased him very much. He hoped it did not show.) The Lion did a little jig outside the cage to celebrate his freedom, and the brushy pompom at the end of his tail quivered with excitement and delight.


Continue to Chapter 3 >>

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