The King of the Birds
by The Brothers Grimm
German Household Tales
One day the birds took it into their heads that they would like a master, and that one of their number must be chosen king. A meeting of all the birds was called, and on a beautiful May morning they assembled from woods and fields and meadows. The eagle, the robin, the bluebird, the owl, the lark, the sparrow were all there. The cuckoo came, and the lapwing, and so did all the other birds, too numerous to mention. There also came a very little bird that had no name at all.
There was great confusion and noise. There was piping, hissing, chattering and clacking, and finally it was decided that the bird that could fly the highest should be king. The signal was given and all the birds flew in a great flock into the air. There was a loud rustling and whirring and beating of wings. The air was full of dust, and it seemed as if a black cloud were floating over the field. The little birds soon grew tired and fell back quickly to earth. The larger ones held out longer, and flew higher and higher, but the eagle flew highest of any. He rose, and rose, until he seemed to be flying straight into the sun. The other birds gave out and one by one they fell back to earth – and when the eagle saw this he thought, “What is the use of flying any higher? It is settled – I am king!”
Then the birds below called in one voice, “Come back, come back! You must be our king! No one can fly as high as you.”
“Except me!” cried a shrill, shrill voice, and the little bird without a name rose from the eagle’s back, where he had lain hidden in the feathers, and he flew into the air. Higher and higher he mounted till he was lost to sight, then, folding his wings together, he sank to earth crying shrilly, “I am king! I am king!”
“You, our king!” the birds cried in anger. “you have done this by trickery and cunning. We will not have you to reign over us.”
Then the birds gathered together again and made another condition, that he should be king who could go the deepest into the earth. How the goose wallowed in the sand, and the duck strove to dig a hole! All the other birds, too, tried to hide themselves in the ground. The little bird without a name found a mouse’s hole, and creeping in cried – “I am king! I am king!”
“You, our king!” all the birds cried again, more angrily than before. “Do you think that we would reward your cunning in this way? No, no! You shall stay in the earth till you die of hunger!”
So they shut up the little bird in the mouse’s hole, and bade the owl watch him carefully night and day. Then all the birds went home to bed, for they were very tired – but the owl found it lonely and wearisome sitting alone staring at the mouse’s hole.
“I can close one eye and watch with the other,” he thought.
So he closed one eye and stared steadfastly with the other – but before he knew it he forgot to keep that one open, and both eyes were fast asleep. Then the little bird without a name peeped out, and when he saw Master Owl’s two eyes tight shut, he slipped from the hole and flew away. From this time on the owl has not dared to show himself by day lest the birds should pull him to pieces. He flies about only at night-time, hating and pursuing the mouse for having made the hole into which the little bird crept. And the little bird also keeps out of sight, for he fears lest the other birds should punish him for his cunning. He hides in the hedges, and when he thinks himself quite safe, he sings out, “I am king! I am king!”
And the other birds in mockery call out, “Yes, yes, the hedge-king! the hedge-king!”