The Birds who Befriended a King
This is how the Hoopoes came to know the great King Solomon. Once he was far out in the wilderness, for there was no part of his kingdom that Solomon did not visit; he had seen that the great store city was finished to his liking, even Tadmor in the desert, and across the sand, the King’s cavalcade made its way, with the camels and the dromedaries and their broidered saddle-cloths bright as flowers, and jewelled bridles flashing as brightly as the sun itself. But the heat smote down on the King’s head, and Solomon yearned for shade. As if in answer to his longing, who should appear but a flock of Hoopoes. Being curious by nature, they circled round until they reached the King’s camel and kept just overhead, so that they might watch this most famous of all monarchs and perchance overhear some word of wisdom. Thus the little birds cast a grateful shadow over the King for his whole journey and richly repaid they were, for Solomon always polite to the humblest creature in his kingdom, conversed freely with them during the whole time. When they reached his palace, he thanked them for the service they had done him, and asked what he could do in return.
Now the Hoopoes had begun their conversation with Solomon modestly enough; in fact, they had been very surprised that he had spoken to them at all. But he had questioned them so kindly about their ways of living, and their likes and preferences and relations, that they lost their fear of him and they came to this wonderful palace and saw all the servants in their shining robes standing behind the King’s throne, and waiting at his table, and lining the great court-yard, and when they beheld the walls of ivory inlaid with gold and the golden lions guarding the steps and the white peacocks on the silver terraces, it quite turned their heads to think they had journeyed right across the desert with the owner of these riches.
So instead of answering Solomon with thanks on their part and telling him his words of wisdom were rich reward for any shelter they had given, the Hoopoes begged leave to consult together and withdrew to the palace roof where they discussed what they would ask for.
Finally they decided they would like golden crowns such as the King himself wore; then they could return to the other birds and reign over them. Thereupon the little birds flew down with a rush and made their request to the King as he walked in his wonderful garden.
“What the King has said, the King has said,” Solomon replied. “The gift you desire shall be granted; yet, because you rendered me true service, when you wish to get rid of your crowns, you may return and exchange them for wisdom.”
“Nay, King,” said the Hoopoes. “Well we know that wisdom has brought you great renown, but no one would bow down to you or give attention to your words, unless you wore your golden crown. We shall be able to repeat your wise words profitably now, for all will listen when they see gold crowns on our heads too.”
“All the same, return to me without fear or shame, if your crowns do not satisfy,” said King Solomon kindly and ordered his goldsmiths to supply the Hoopoes with crowns of the finest gold procurable. Off flew the silly little birds, therefore, with the shining crowns upon their heads, prouder than the peacocks and chattering more loudly than the parrots and macaws.
They could scarcely wait to get back to their friends and hear their exclamations. But when the Hoopoes informed their friends they were now Kings of the Bird World, their friends only laughed and said they were quite satisfied with Solomon, and he was the only King they wished or needed. Then they drove the Hoopoes from the trees for their golden crowns were always catching in the branches and the other birds became tired of helping them out. But the Hoopoes decided the other birds were jealous and, rather flattered, gathered round the pools so that they could admire themselves in the water. Very soon people began to notice the queer antics of the silly little things as they strutted up and down, cocking their heads first this side, then that, and finally a man caught one and discovered the wonderful golden crown it wore. He hurried off with it to a goldsmith who gave him so high a price for it, that the man rushed back to the pool and laid snares for the Hoopoes, who were so taken up with admiring themselves that they walked straight into them.
Then came the saddest time for the Hoopoes. Every one began to hunt them. The poor little birds could not go to the wells and the pools for they were thick with nets, they could not go into the gardens for fowlers lurked behind the flowers, they could not fly up onto the housetops for even there the people had set traps for them. There did not seem a spot on the earth where they could rest, and at last, the wretched little birds flew back to the palace and waited till they beheld the great King Solomon coming along his terrace, listening to his singers as they performed in the cool of the evening.
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.