Leonardo’s Lion…

24 Jun

Today on the GSP Legends Promo we welcome back Steven R Southard. His book we are highlighting to day is Leonardo’s Lion.


In 1515, Leonardo da Vinci built a mechanical lion to entertain King Francis I of France and his guests. Until now, no one knows what happened to this amazing clockwork creation. Over half a century later, when a ten year old boy discovers the lion in a royal storeroom, young Chev doesn’t know he will soon embark on a strange and dangerous mission. His quest will lead him many leagues through a French countryside devastated by religious war in search of Leonardo’s greatest secrets of all, hidden mysteries that could affect the future of all humanity.


With his good hand, Chev opened the door, eased through it, and stood with his back against the oak portal, panting.

“Mon Dieu!” An old man looked up from his desk. “A visitor, here? By all the Saints! I never get visitors. No one ever comes to see old Gaspard…” His creaky voice trailed off to a mumble.

“I’m sorry, Monsieur,” Chev interrupted in a whisper, unsure if he could trust the old man. “Please don’t tell anyone I’m here.” Since escaping the orphanage earlier that day, he’d been trying to avoid people, clinging to shadowed alleys, hiding in alcoves, and squeezing through wall cracks. Any adult who saw him, he feared, would turn him over to the authorities and he’d be back where he’d started.

“I won’t give your secret away, for goodness’ sake.” Gaspard stood and beckoned to Chev. “Come in, lad. Make yourself comfortable. I enjoy company, and that door so seldom opens. What’s your name, son? And how old are you? You look no more than ten. Very young to be running in fear…” He continued speaking in a low murmur.

“My name is Chev, Monsieur,” he began to catch his breath. “I don’t know how old I am.” Chev dared not tell him he’d come from the orphanage.

“What happened to your hand, young Chev?”

“I caught the holy fire disease,” Chev looked down at his right forearm to where it ended in a rounded stump. He would never forget the pain that day the monks cut off his blackened, withered hand while telling him it was necessary to save his life.

The man nodded. “I’m sorry for you. A terrible thing.”

Chev looked around at the room’s vast interior. “What is this place?”

Gaspard swept his hand in a jerky manner. “Welcome to King Charles’ Storeroom. Here go all the old, forgotten gifts and decorations, all the royal possessions from the Amboise palace no one bothered to send to Paris. These wine goblets, for example, were given to Louis XI in 1475. And this scepter…”

Chev stared in disbelief at the amazing riches stacked in haphazard confusion in floor-to-ceiling piles. The heaps included armor, tapestries, books, portraits, musical instruments, polished wood furniture, ornate boxes, tableware, and jewelry.

“…and with this sword, King Charles VI knighted Sir Ambroise de Loré in 1415,” Gaspard continued. “Notice this exquisite chessboard given to King Philip VI in 1345…”

While Gaspard droned, Chev wandered to where the fancy clothing hung, each garment featuring delicate trim and bold colors. He brushed some of the clothes with his hand, feeling the smooth fabrics, devoid of holes or rips.

A fearsome face stared out from behind some garments as he swept them. Chev fell backward to the floor and crab-walked rearward in horror. “A monster!”

“Monster?” Gaspard asked, frowning. “Hmm. There are no monsters on my inventory. It is here you found it, no?” He pointed to some of the robes and dresses.

Chev nodded. “I swear it, Monsieur. Please don’t—”

Heedless of the plea, Gaspard parted the fabric.

There it was! A menacing face, like some cat magnified to enormous size. But now Chev saw it did not move, not even its eyes. Carved from ash wood, its tan and black contours looked very real, but frozen in place. Chev sat up, a little less scared.

“Ah, yes, the lion,” Gaspard smiled at Chev. “Just a wooden lion, not a monster. I’d forgotten it was there. Here, help me pull him out from his jungle of clothing.”

Chev stood and came closer, still worried the huge beast might somehow come to life.

“You may touch it,” Gaspard patted the lion’s head. “I don’t believe it’s hungry.”

Together they worked to slide the wooden feline out from behind the clothing. It seemed very sturdy, yet light, for such a huge replica.

Old Gaspard was out of breath from his mild exertions, but kept up a steady, gasping monologue as they pulled. “This lion was built by a man named Leonardo and presented to King François I for his visit to Bologna to meet Pope Leo X in December, 1515.”

“Lion? Leonardo? Pope Leo?” Chev didn’t know if the man was joking with him and whether he should laugh.
Gaspard chuckled. “A coincidence of names. Also, he brought out the lion again later when the King visited Lyon!”

Chev did laugh with Gaspard at that, but then grew curious. “1515? How long ago was that, Monsieur?”

“Well, let’s see, this year is 1569, so it’s…well, quite a long time ago.” Gaspard continued, “Leonardo was an artist and entertainer, inventor and scientist, too. The King invited him to move here from Italy.”

Chev had never seen a real lion, but held terrifying notions of them from stone statues he’d seen and hair-raising stories told late at night by older boys in the orphanage. The animal before him looked like someone had spent a lifetime carving its details. Even the wood grains imitated a living creature’s fur. Teeth and claws appeared as sharp as sword blades. Overall, the statue showed more power, pride, and grandeur than anything Chev had ever seen. “It’s wonderful,” he shook his head in awe after circling the beast.

“It’s not just a statue,” Gaspard scratched his gray goatee. “Let me see if I can recall how it works. I think perhaps I first do this.” He grasped the long, graceful tail and raised it up in an arc.

Chev heard a metallic clicking noise, like the sound of winding the mantel clock at the orphanage.

Gaspard worked on the tail, moving it up and down a few times until he gave up, breathing hard. The man then examined the back of the lion’s proud, upraised head. The mane’s hair curved down in real-looking locks. Gaspard’s bony hand felt along this mane, feeling one of the locks in the center, low, where the mane ended. “Watch now,” he said as he lifted the lock up, then pushed it back into place.

The lion began to walk, and Chev almost fainted.

Its gait was slow and stately. As the beast moved, its head swiveled from side to side, its mouth opened and closed, and its tail swished with its stride.

In delighted amazement, Chev overcame his dread of the animated lion. He rushed to it and marched alongside. As if pacing its realm, the creature strode down the narrow aisle formed by towering piles of royal belongings.

Gaspard talked the whole time, in his creaky, babbling voice. Chev ignored him, so intent was he on the marvel of a moving wooden feline beast.

Without warning the lion stopped. It lowered its hind end to sit on its haunches. It faced forward, head held high, mouth closed. Its chest began to open up, like the twin doors of a cathedral. Chev looked at its chest. The open “doors” revealed only an empty compartment. A moment later the breast plates closed and the beast returned to its standing posture.

“…the festive reception when King François I met the Pope,” Gaspard was saying, “Leonardo had put lilies in the lion’s chest, and they fell out upon the floor. Lilies are in the coat of arms of France, as well as that of the city of Florence, Italy. Florentine dignitaries were also in Bologna for the celebration, and the lion itself is a symbol of Florence. Ah, think of the impression this machine must have made on everyone present that day.”

Chev cared nothing for court noblemen at some long-ago celebration. He wanted to see inside the lion. Scrambling underneath and looking up, he saw the outline of a second rectangular opening farther back from the chest area. This one had two small metal latches Chev could move with his hand. The panel swung down on hinges.

“What are you doing down there? Be careful not to break anything.”

“I’ll be careful, Monsieur.” It took a moment to see anything in the lion’s dark interior. Then details became clearer. Metal gears and springs and rods and wheels, like those of the mantel clock at the orphanage, filled the animal’s insides. But this machinery looked far more complicated than the clock. Everything connected to something else—rods attached to wheels, gear teeth meshing, springs wound on axles.

Except one item.

About the author:

 Growing up in the Midwest, Steven R. Southard always found the distant oceans exotic and tantalizing. He served aboard submarines and now works as a civilian naval engineer. In his stories, he takes readers on journeys of discovery in many seas and various vessels. Steve has written in the historical, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and steampunk genres. Come aboard at http://sites.google.com/site/stevenrsouthard/ and voyage with his intriguing characters in tales of aquatic adventure. 

    Visit Steven’s new website at: http://www.stevenrsouthard.com/







One Response to “Leonardo’s Lion…”

  1. chalaedra June 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on Chalaedra's Weblog and commented:

    In 1515, Leonardo da Vinci built a mechanical lion to entertain the King of France. The fate of that strange clockwork creation, and its real purpose, have remained unknown . . . until now. Leonardo’s Lion, a short story by Steven R. Southard. Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, other fine eBook vendors and Gypsy Shadow Publishing at:

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