Daniel knew he had to disobey and it made him furious. His own aide couldn’t keep up with his pace and the man had longer legs and was forty years younger than he. Daniel pounded down the dusty road like a whirlwind, his face like flint.
Under his breath, he muttered, “Foolish, big-headed…” But he couldn’t finish. He couldn’t dishonour his king with talk like that. He shook his head at himself.
Mishael caught him just as he was entering his house, “Daniel!”
The sight of his friend brought Daniel out of his foul mood for a moment and they embraced. But just before Daniel drew back, Mishael began to whisper to him.
“Daniel, be careful. They’re here to get you.” He then stepped back and slapped Daniel on the shoulders, “It’s been too long, my friend!”
After a short conversation, Daniel had to make his excuses. “I need to get upstairs,” he said.
His friend, knowing exactly what that meant, looked him in the eye and nodded, his expression sombre as he clasped Daniel’s hand, “Shalom, Daniel.”
“Shalom, Mishael.” Would he ever see his friend again?
Daniel headed upstairs and straight to his upper room. One attendant accompanied him and relieved him of his symbols of office. His sandals had been taken at the door.
He liked to approach The Holy as simply a man.
Dismissing his attendant, Daniel opened the window and knelt on the mat on the floor, bowing down in the direction of Yerushaláyim.
“Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam,” he began, “Thank you, Holy One, for giving me breath today. May I use each breath in Your service.”
Daniel began to feel a great peace as he continued thanking Adonai for his life and the beauty within it. The feeling became so powerful, Daniel paused in his prayer and simply enjoyed it, allowing the peace to completely fill him.
So he did not jump when the door to the room slammed open and he was roughly hauled to his feet by two guards.
“You’re under arrest!”
The small room was full of people suddenly. Had the entire group of governors come to witness this? Daniel had underestimated how threatened they would be by his possible promotion. They really wanted him out of the way.
Asharek pointed at him, “You dare to pray to your god instead of your king?” His face was beet-coloured in its assumed indignation.
Daniel looked him in the eye, “A man must always be allowed to approach his maker directly. No one must stand in his way. No man can.”
Asharek shook his head, “Even against the law of your king and god?”
“My king he is. My God he could never be.”
There was a gasp of false horror from those in the room.
“Then you condemn yourself, old man.” Asharek smiled as he flicked his fingers at the guards.
They dragged Daniel back to the palace and before his king, not even pausing for him to put his sandals back on.
So, dusty and barefoot, he was thrown before Darius, where he lost his balance and crashed to his hands and knees.
The accusations flew over his head like arrows and he watched as Darius slowly realised his predicament. The king stood then and descended to where Daniel was. As he helped Daniel to his feet he spoke to him quietly.
“Daniel, my friend,” he said, “What have I done to you? What have I done in my pride? Is there a way out?”
Daniel calmly looked back at Darius, “If there is, my lord, I can’t see it.”
Darius shook his head, “There must be. I’ll find a way. I won’t rest until I find it.” He gripped Daniel’s shoulder and smiled grimly.
Turning to the guards, he ordered them to take Daniel and keep him in the king’s own quarters.
Daniel spent the time until sunset waiting in relative comfort. The king’s own attendant was sent to care for him, though the guards would not let Daniel out of their sight.
Daniel could not object—they were doing their job.
He watched what was likely to be his last sunset. It was glorious. As the last rays left the clouds high above, he heard the messenger arrive: he was to be taken back to the throne room. He rose and went with the guards, arriving this time with a little more decorum.
Once more before his king, Daniel bowed low and waited. He’d seen the troubled look on Darius’ face as he’d entered. Not a good sign.
“Daniel.” Darius had come down from his throne again and he gestured with his hand. “Walk with me.”
The two men went out onto the terraces. The guards followed and then came a swaggering clump of governors. They’d come to watch.
Daniel knew the way they were walking. Darius loved his lions. He’d come and watch them getting fed in the early evening—at this time, in fact.
Would he watch?
“I had hoped,” Darius began, “that I would benefit from your wisdom for longer than this.” He sighed, “It’s obvious I have much more to learn.”
The admission from the king gave Daniel hope for him.
“The best advice I can give you,” said Daniel, “is to be humble and to listen for the voice of the Holy One. He is the True King. He is the King of all kings.”
Darius stopped and faced Daniel, the weight of his office showing on his face. The guards took up positions on each side of Daniel.
Darius clasped hands with Daniel, “May your god, whom you serve so faithfully, keep you from the mouth of the lions.” His expression, however, held little hope.
Then Darius stepped back and nodded to the guards.
They took Daniel by the arms and pushed him towards the hole that led to the lions’ den. He didn’t resist. So, instead of pushing him down the deep hole where he might have broken his leg, they allowed him to use the rope at its mouth to let himself down. Pulling the rope back up, they then pushed a large rock, made for the purpose, over the opening.
It was very quiet. It seemed they hadn’t released the lions yet. Daniel had a choice where he would meet them.
He walked towards the main feeding area. This was where Darius would watch the lions being fed. There were shutters above that could be pulled aside.
But they were in place. Neither Darius nor the gleeful clump of governors would watch the spectacle.
“Thank you, Darius,” said Daniel, “And thank you, Adonai, for your everlasting mercy.”
Daniel heard the cage door being winched up. The lions would be here soon. Surely they could smell him by now.
And indeed, he heard the sound of enormous paws padding on the dirt floor of the corridor. Closer and closer, faster and faster. The lions were hungry.
They slowed, however, as they rounded the last bend. It seemed they didn’t smell the usual fear. Daniel stood tall and calm, not cowering, not screaming. This was new to them.
The four beautiful lions paced back and forth, seemingly not quite sure how to proceed.
Daniel examined them. He’d never seen them so close before. Apart from the scars of battle between them, claw and teeth marks on smooth tan fur, they were magnificent, mighty beasts. Their full manes wreathed their heads and framed their necks diminishing to lean, muscular hindquarters.
Their mates arrived behind them and were barred by their leaders’ confusion, low rattles sounding from their throats. Daniel imagined the weight of all those bodies was immense. There were more lionesses than lions.
But it didn’t take long for them to decide he was no threat to them. Who, indeed, could threaten a lion?
One and then another paced closer, their eyes catching glints of torchlight from above, the eerie glimmer from the back of their eyes at each turn telling Daniel they were looking directly at him.
Daniel could feel his heart hammering, his breath coming in shallow gasps.
And then, all at once, the biggest of the lions turned and padded towards Daniel, his stride quickening until he leapt forward, his front paws landing on Daniel’s shoulders and knocking him easily to the ground. He smelled a great wave of the lion’s breath as he pressed his muzzle against Daniel’s throat.
But then the lion turned away, shaking his head. Another followed close behind and stood over Daniel, eager to be first to draw blood, his paws on each side of Daniel’s body.
His face nudged Daniel’s, one way and then the other, but his mouth didn’t open. The third arrived on his tail and, standing next to him, tried to push the second one’s head away. Again, though, his mouth didn’t open.
Both the lions standing over Daniel’s body huffed through their nostrils and shook their heads as if they were attempting to shake hair off their noses. Then, stepping back, one used a front paw to wipe the side of his jaw. Over and over he did this as the other turned to the side and rubbed his muzzle against a nearby rock outcrop.
Daniel discovered the forth lion had arrived at his feet and they were being pushed to and fro by his nose before he, too, turned away for a moment.
But he turned back and thumped one of his front paws down on Daniel’s chest. It winded Daniel, but no more. The claws had not been extended.
All four of the lions were now consumed with rubbing their muzzles: on the ground, on the rocks, with their paws. One had both front paws on each side of his nose trying to push an invisible bond away, over and over again.
Daniel sat up, astounded—he was still alive.
But he was flat on his back a moment later as the lionesses had their try at the kill. They had no more luck that their mates, however. Daniel’s head and body were pushed this way and that, but no harm came to him.
One or two of the lions were making muffled sounds. Frustrated growls slid sideways from their clenched teeth.
Once the lionesses had retreated to contend with their invisible bonds Daniel sat up again.
He was surrounded by impotent lions. He began to laugh.
Slipping around onto his knees, Daniel bowed down to the ground and thanked the Holy One of Israel.
Though they could not eat him or scratch him, the lions and their mates stayed in the feeding area. Daniel imagined it was more comfortable than the smelly lair they had left behind.
Once they’d given up trying to get their mouths open, the lions lay down to sleep. Each lion took up an enormous amount of space leaving very little ground between them. They leaned against and upon each other
So Daniel, finding the air increasingly cold and hoping he wasn’t pushing providence too far, wedged himself between two warm sleeping giants and went to sleep himself, his head on a massive paw.
He was woken by a faint voice, “Daniel!”
He scrambled to his feet in the dim light, startling one of the lions, and walked towards the entry hole.
The voice came again, “Daniel! Has your god been able to help you?”
It was Darius. His voice sounded strained.
Daniel called out, smiling, “Oh, my great king Darius! My faithful God has found me innocent and sent his angel to shut the lions’ mouths. And I’ve done you no wrong, either,” he added.
Daniel got to the end of the tunnel and found the astonished face of Darius framed in the hole’s opening. It was barely dawn.
“Get him out,” Darius ordered as he stepped back.
The rope was lowered and Daniel was pulled up to safety.
Darius looked tired and drawn, but he smiled widely and then embraced Daniel, “Oh, the great god of Dan-”
This last word was drowned out by an almighty roar from just inside the tunnel. The guards jumped quickly to the rock and pushed it back over the hole.
“It sounds like their mouths are open again,” Daniel remarked.
Darius nodded, anger shadowing his face, “And I know exactly what to fill them with.”
Photo courtesy of Debbie Hilton (https://www.flickr.com/photos/grangeb7/)
[Thank you for reading my work! If you like this, there are more when you click on my name at the top. Please remember you can follow me and/or enter your email address in the space for it in the menu (the lines at the top right of the screen) then you will get all my posts in your inbox. I appreciate feedback, too, so if you do like this—or have helpful suggestions—please take a moment and leave a comment below.]