Archive for October 5th, 2018

The Language of the Birds

I can tell you my dear readers only in Russia this story could have taken place. My sad fate awaits whosoever aims high beyond such gifts God in heaven has chosen to give. You may know that I am a king’s son and the reins of my kingdom slipped out of my hands for one error; But that was long ago and now I have this story which even after so many years is still strange and wondrous as when it happened. So hear me patiently and you may find in it something worthwhile.
{Somewhere in a town in holy Russia, there lived a rich merchant with his wife. He had an only son, by name Ivan. One day while the three supped a nightingale in its cage in another room carolled; many times they had heard the bird sing but that particular moment its song carried certain loveliness that the father listened and turned to his wife and said, “I am sure the bird is trying to speak something for which I can vouch with my life. But what?” Thereafter he fell into melancholy. He was never the same.
This strange and abrupt turn did not escape the notice of his son. Ever since no matter where he went, no matter where he was, no matter what he did, he always had only one thought: ‘How shall I master the language of the birds?’
One day Ivan went into the fields to hunt but a sudden downpour followed by thunder and lightening sent him into the woods.
Ivan soon came near a large tree and saw a big nest in the branches. Four small birds were in the nest; they were quite alone, and neither father nor mother was there to protect them from the cold and wet. The good Ivan pitied them, climbed the tree and covered the little ones with his “kaftan,” and by and by the thunderstorm passed. A big owl came flying and sat down on a branch near the nest and spoke very kindly to Ivan. After thanking the boy the bird wanted to do something in return. He said ‘As king of the birds it is within my power to grant your wish.”
At first Ivan would not say but the bird encouraged to speak. The bird-king pressed him and he said “ Oh teach me the birds’ language.”
“Stay with me three days and thou shalt know all about it.”
Ivan remained in the forest three days. He understood well the teaching of the big bird and returned home.
Some time later he was having dinner with his parents and as soon as the nightingale began he made a gesture to them to keep quiet. After the bird ceased singing Ivan began to weep and it startled his parents. When pressed for a reason he said he could understand what the bird was trying say.
“What then is the meaning? Tell us the whole truth; do not hide it from us,” said the father and mother. The son sighed and said, “I wish I was never born!” Alarmed the father was all the more eager to know why he became distraught.
“Do you not hear for yourselves? The nightingale says: ‘The time will come when Ivan, the merchant’s son, shall become Ivan, the king’s son, and his own father shall serve him as a simple servant.'”
The merchant and his wife felt troubled and began to distrust their son, their good Ivan. So one night they gave him a drowsy drink, and when he had fallen asleep the father and his servants put him in a boat on the wide sea, spread the white sails as the wind became strong; pushing her to the sea they made good of their escape.
The boat with Ivan, bobbing up and down and driven by strong winds came near a large merchant vessel, which struck against it. Only when the seamen pulled him aboard Ivan woke up. Ivan was loath to tell what brought him there but requested the captain to let him pay his way up some far off lands. Thus he became a seaman. One day they spotted cranes circling overhead. Ivan said to the sailors:
“Be careful; I hear the birds predicting a storm. Let us enter a harbour or we shall suffer great danger and damage. All the sails will be torn and all the masts will be broken.”
But no one paid any attention and they went farther on. Just as he had predicted the storm arose and did great damage. The captain of the ship skilfully steered the damaged ship to the nearest haven. When they were done and ready for the next leg of voyage they heard many wild swans flying above them and talking very loud among themselves.
“What are they talking about?” inquired the men, this time with interest.
“Be careful,” advised Ivan. “I hear and distinctly understand them to say that the pirates, the terrible sea robbers, are near.” They discussed and safely towed the ship to another part so when the pirates went on pillaging many ships in their path Ivan had saved the ship from all harm.
After making sure they were safe the ship with Ivan went farther and after many months of sailing they anchored in the harbour of another kingdom. The king who ruled the kingdom was much annoyed by three black crows. These three crows were not simply birds but they spoke as they were taught at the feet of Satan himself. One went on reciting all the time ill about other kings; the second one never stopped how to conquer other kingdoms and make their people work in gulags. The third crow went on chattering how much profits for the winner and loss for the loser and so forth. No one knew how to get rid of them and no one could kill them. The king ordered notices to be placed throughout the broadways and byways saying that whoever was able to relieve the king from the noisy birds would be rewarded by obtaining the youngest korolevna, the king’s daughter, for a wife; but whosoever lost was to be hanged forthwith. Ivan read the announcement, once, twice, and once more for good measure.
Ivan went to the palace and presented himself. The King’s men took him to the king’s chamber. Opening the window they retreated so Ivan could hear them at his leisure and as usual crows began the day with their ranting. In between pause Ivan leant out and beckoned said, “Rube, you are wasting your breath. Didn’t you hear peace has been declared?” The crow looked at the speaker, “Long ago?”
“Yes, next time you speak ill of other,- another word, the word will go to your king. You know what will happen then?” Rube almost fell off from his branch. He told other two crows, “wait till I ask the little prince.” He flew off. Ivan called the next crow to ask, “Misha, How long will you play the fool? You know what happens to those who teach others to do evil?” “Now what? You tell me!” Ivan replied smoothly, “ Evil always returns to the doer. You want a lightening to strike you?” Misha almost did a somersault and said to the third crow, “Let me give a piece of my mind to prince Igor who dealt with us treacherously.” With two crows gone Ivan called sharply and said, “Boris, you can add and subtract but lie is whatever you have said so far. The little prince meant you great harm.” Boris just quaked and said, “I put herewith a curse on the little prince. He taught us man’s ways in return for learning the language of the birds. I speak no idle words.” The other two crows came back and said, “Prince Igor is struck with a shaking fit even as we said our piece” Boris looked at Ivan and said, “You saw how my curse works, master?” The three crows vowed never to speak or glorify war and they flew off.
The king duly gave one-half of his kingdom and his youngest daughter to Ivan, and a happy life began for him.
In the meantime his father, the rich merchant through constant wars lost his wife and his fortune also. There was no one left to take care of him, and the old man went begging and after months whom does he see but his son? He and his bride had come in the neighbouring kingdom on a state visit. Ivan saw him and recognized him, ordered him to come inside, and gave him food to eat and also supplied him with good clothes, asking questions:
“Dear old man, what can I do for you?” he said.
“If thou art so very good,” answered the poor father, without knowing that he was speaking to his own son, “let me remain here and serve thee among thy faithful servants.”
“Dear, dear father!” exclaimed Ivan, “The language of the birds are not idle tales. And now recall how the nightingale foresaw our fate? The birds are messengers. They were once before the Heavenly Father and their offspring in many plumes and in many tongues praise his goodness.” Pointing to some wood pigeons Ivan told his father, “Even so they encircle above telling in vain, for we hear them; do we really understand them?” His father nodded in agreement. For the remaining years he lived in the household of his son.}
You must wonder where do I come in? I am born a prince. My servants addressed me Prince Igor. I was the wisest, but I took a wrong step. When I set out to learn the language of the birds I went to an eagle in the Black Mountains and learned it. In return I taught the bird, ways of man and what makes him dominate every other creature on the earth. My knowledge I put to wrong use. It is obvious. You see I can’t even hold a pen or write. Some crow put a curse on me. That was long ago.
The End

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