A lion once lived in the jungle near the city of Dehra Dun, in the north of India. He lived with his devoted servant, a fox. The lion would hunt for himself and, after he had eaten the best part of his prey, he would give the fox the leftovers. The two lived happily together in peace for many years until they both grew old and feeble. One day the lion was wounded in a fight with an elephant. He found it hard to move and hunt for his food.
“My dear fox, we are both going to starve to death this way,” he said to the fox one evening. “I cannot go out to hunt any more. It is time for you to bring me an animal to kill here.”
The next morning the fox set out in search of the prey. Soon he saw an ass grazing outside the city of Dehra Dun.
“Hello,” said the fox to the ass. “You look very sad. What is the matter?”
“Oh, I am sick of my life as a beast of burden,” replied the ass. “I carry the clothes of my master, a washerman, every day yet he is never grateful. Instead, he beats me with his stick and speaks to me rudely. I have no one to talk to because I am never free to find myself a friend. I am so tired of this life.”
“That is very sad,” said the fox. “It's not fair that your master should be so mean. You cannot be a slave to this man for the rest of your life. Come with me, and find happiness in the jungle. Everyone is free and peaceful there. You will get plenty of food, good shelter and if you desire, a bride.”
The ass looked at the fox with interest, “A bride too?” he exclaimed, with a sparkle in his eyes.
“Yes, a bride too,” said the fox. “I know a female ass that would make a good bride for you. She is also lonely and looking for a husband. She wants to marry and raise a family. This is no life for you,” he added.
“I think you are right,” the ass said thoughtfully. “I will come with you and teach my master a lesson. I have a right to a better life.”
He went to the jungle with the fox and soon they came to the lion's den. Before he knew what was happening, the old lion jumped from the den onto the ass, but with his injury and old age missed his aim. This frightened the ass, and he ran away from the den as fast as he could.
“What an impatient creature,” cried the fox in anger. “The prey escaped because of your foolishness. Could you not have waited for a while, and then pounced at him?”
“Well,” replied the lion, “it was not fault. You did not bring him close enough to me. I was scared I would miss him, so I jumped at him in a hurry.”
The fox shook his head in despair and said, “Okay, I'll bring him once again. This time, be ready to pounce on him properly and kill him, before he has time to escape.”
The fox ran after the ass, who was heading back towards the city. “Hey, wait for me,” he called out. “What happened? Why did you run?”
The ass stopped and looked back at the fox. “Who was that with those bright eyes?” he asked. “Why did he jump at me like that?”
Realizing the ass had not known the lion, the clever fox replied, “My dear ass, that was the bride. She has been doing a lot of fasting and prayers to find a good husband. All the fasting has made her very thin. Nothing except her bright eyes can be seen. She was so happy to see after many years spent longing for a husband that in her eagerness she jumped at you, and you ran away.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” said the ass. “I shall return and see her again.” He wanted so much to be married and have a companion for life.
They returned to the den. This time the lion was careful and said in a soft voice, “Come closer, my dear. I love you.”
The ass blushed and went further into the dark den, thinking his bride waited in the shadows. The lion raised his claw and, instead of the ass receiving the garland he expected, he was given a blow which killed him instantly.
The fox was happy this time. His master had killed the prey, and they were going to enjoy a good meal after so many days of hunger. He had an idea and said to the lion, “Master, you are tired. You should go and refresh yourself with a good bath at the river before eating the meal.”
“That's true,” said the lion. “I feel hot and exhausted already. You keep a watch over the body until I return.” With that, the lion left the den and went down to the river to swim.
The fox was hungry. He looked at the dead ass, and thought, “I have earned this game by my intelligence. The lion is going to take the major share of the meal for himself, as usual. It is not fair. Well, this time I will not let it happen. I am going to finish my meal before he gets back.”
So the fox set upon the ears and the brain of the ass and ate it with relish. When the lion returned, he looked at the dead ass and inquired angrily, “What has happened to the ears and the brain? Who has eaten it? I asked you to keep a watch while I went for a bath.”
“My dear Master,” replied the fox, “the ass had neither ears nor a brain. If he had any, do you think he would have come here again the second time?”
“Of course he would not have, you are very correct,” agreed the lion. “I shall feed myself first, and then you can take the leftovers. You worked very hard this time. You deserve to eat also.”
The fox sat down in one corner and chuckled to himself while the lion at what was left of the ass. He had deceived the mighty lion with his intelligence and ingenuity.