King of the Birds
by The Brothers Grimm
German Household Tales
One day the birds took it into their
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
"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!"