The Birds who Befriended a King
“Oh, King,” said they, “we have found that golden crowns are vanity; we know not what you do to keep yourself from being chased about and hunted, and so we have come to ask you to remove ours from us.”
“Beloved Hoopoes,” said the King, “a crown that people are expected to bow down to, always sits heavy on the head, and a crown that excites envy, is a net for the feet. The only crown that can be worn with comfort is the crown of service, and that crown should spring up naturally so that no one takes any particular notice of it.”
“Give us that crown of service, oh wise king,” said the poor little Hoopoes very humbly, for they wanted nothing better now than to be taken no notice of.
“May it shelter you even as it sheltered me,” said the great King; and on their heads, the Hoopoes beheld crowns of feathers. But with these crowns came quite a new feeling to the Hoopoes; they no longer wished to rule but to serve.
Now the Arabian legend has it, Solomon had a wonderful flying carpet, where he sat on a golden throne with all his attendants round him. Mindful of the Hoopoes’ usefulness, he summoned all the birds to make a flying canopy; the Eagle was placed at their head, but the Hoopoes were placed immediately over Solomon as he sat in the centre of his court. Thus shadowed, Solomon and his friends and servants would rise from the ground and travel across the desert and over sea and land, in cool and comfort.
One day, however, when they were right out in the wilderness and the sun was beating down with all its might, a ray of sunlight flashed through and struck the King’s face. A hole had appeared in the canopy.
Naturally word was passed to the Eagle who flew up at once to see what had happened, and thus perceived one of the Hoopoes was absent from its place, leaving a hole through which the sunbeam entered. The Eagle presented itself before Solomon therefore, and told the amazing news; and Solomon ordered the Eagle to hasten off at once and find the missing Hoopoe who must have soared up and above the heads of all the other birds to make its escape, for no one had seen it go.
Off went the Eagle, rising up and up until it was lost to sight in the high skies. But though no one on earth could see the Eagle now, his sight was very keen and presently he beheld a speck winging its way across the distant desert and swooping down, met the missing Hoopoe.
“Where have you been?” cried the Eagle.
“Where black marble cuts the air,
In great walls, all shining bare,
Standing by the waterside:—
There a great queen I espied.
Golden tubs of orange trees
Stand against the walls, but these
Are not half as bright as she,
Sitting in great majesty.
She is called the Queen Balkis
And her land a garden is,
Lying over there, so far,
Right across Arabia.”
The Hoopoe was so excited it broke into verse, because it could not express its feelings any other way; but the Eagle was terribly angry. The Hoopoe did not seem to mind having deserted Solomon; there it soared and circled, making up poetry about a Queen as if it had done nothing wrong at all!
“And in the meantime, what do you think the great and wise King Solomon has been doing?” thundered the Eagle, “whose noble head you are supposed to shield?”
“Ah, spare me, I beg,” said the little Hoopoe, “for the sake of no other than our wise and noble King.”
“Spare you for his sake?” said the Eagle, very surprised. “What mercy do you deserve? And how can sparing you, help our great King?”
“Nevertheless, I say, spare me for his sake,” repeated the Hoopoe, “and take me back with you as quickly as you please, for I have a most urgent message to deliver to no other than Solomon himself.”
From Wonder Tales of the World, Constance Armfield, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.