The Bird-Brained King
And The Three Parrots That Would Only Say Their Names.
The Tall, Thin Castle.
Have you ever heard the story of the Vital Bird?
Have you ever seen one? Well, back in fairy-tale times,
in a kingdom far away (beyond even the Hudson River)
there was a castle which was the tallest and thinnest castle
ever built anywhere, before or since,
and in it lived a very careless king...
This castle was set on the peak of the tallest mountain
in the kingdom, and its walls, towers and halls, all
the living quarters, courts and pavilions,
down to the lowest kitchen and dungeon
... every least part of it was fashioned like spirals
twisting higher and higher, one on top of the next one
on top of the following one.
Structures and structures, scaffolds and scaffolds
and their supports, props and fulcrums and braces,
buttresses and bulwarks ran up and up
until even the clouds were left behind, far, far below...
This was all done so when the King stuck his head
out any of his balconies he could watch, say,
a flock of passing birds flying beautifully below his window
(he was very fond of doing that because he loved birds
--and especially loved taking pot-shots at them once in a while
as they never fell on him or near him and
thus never made any mess he might later regret).
The castle was also built as high as it was
so the King would never (even by the most remote chance)
have to catch sight of any of his subjects
--Those very, very common people who lived beneath him
in their muck, down there where
the birds the careless King shot rained,
droppings and all...
One could say that this very careless King
had his castle built to keep himself as far above it all
as his royal architects could manage it.
In a way it had all worked out exactly as planned, too,
for the King was able to spend almost all his life
without ever laying eyes on a single one of his subjects;
such a long time
that although they were all still down there all right
(sometimes, if the wind was right, he could hear them breathing)
most of the time he just liked to
pretend they didn't even exist any more.
In any case, when he looked out of his so very, very high balconies
usually the only things he saw
were the gentle, unprotesting clouds
hugging the skirts of his impossibly tall and thin castle
in all their lovely calm and peace.
There was one little problem
which the King's architects had not been able to fix,
however: So high was the summit of the King's castle
(where the King himself actually lived)
that even the slightest breeze sent
shivers through its sturdiest spirals.
And so high up were the King's apartments
(where he spent most of his time)
that none of his ministers or counselors, guards, pages
or janitors could stay up there with him for very long
without being made dizzy and sick by the tall, thin tower's
waving and weaving back and forth with every breeze.
This made it necessary for everyone who visited him,
because they could find no excuse not to,
to come and go as quickly as they could manage it.
(This was also a very solitary King as well.)
And, well, birds were about the only creatures which could stay
up there with the King for more than just only a minute or two.
Oh, the King had cats, dogs, and goats
and all sorts of other different animals dragged
up to the summit where he lived
(for none of them ever climbed that high voluntarily).
But as soon as the poor beasts were let loose up there
they would start grabbing hold of the legs of tables, chairs,
of self-standing bird perches, people
and (with little show of respect for His Majesty)
even of the King's own pants--!
It was pitiful the way they could wrap their bodies
around just about anything and yelled and howled
while holding on for dear life
(as the tall, thin castle first swayed this way
and then that one with any passing breeze)
until they turned green and got terribly sick
all over the very place the King liked to keep so clean...
It was more than the King could stomach.
Sometimes the very careless King himself
would kick the poor beasts right out
through any open balcony (for so it was
that one day it would rain an odd goat or mongoose
on the people below while another day it would rain plain cats
and dogs), and at other times
the King would send still other of the animals down
to the dungeon of the castle, where they could help
his Royal Executioner keep his job.
However, as was the case with the King himself
(who was known as Bird-brained by all his ministers
and counselors behind his back)
... all this back and forth swaying above the clouds
seemed to sit well with birds,
who merely bent their heads this way
or shifted their bodies side-ways
with every sway of the high castle,
taking it all in stride while looking like
a very well choreographed ballet.
And oh, how the careless King himself
was adapted to living it up
way up there on the highest circles of life
--very, very well, actually. In fact,
he eventually grew so used to the way his tall, thin castle
swung back and forth under his feet with the wind
that he even used its very motion
to move about his living quarters
without even having to walk at all
(for he was also a very lazy king, as you can imagine):
King Bird-brained would merely wait until the castle
started moving in the opposite direction of where he wanted to go,
and by just jumping up and down in place
(in whatever place he was standing)
he'd come closer and closer to where he wanted to go
every time he landed on the floor, exactly like a kangaroo
except he hopped in place
as the land under his feet was the one actually moving.
Because birds were the only creatures besides the King
that could stand it up there
the King began to surround himself with lots and lots of birds
--all kinds of birds at first--
showing them off in their silver cages
or chained by the leg to their golden perches
throughout his many rooms (up there
on the summit of his thin, tall castle).
So many birds did the King collect
that soon he'd gone through most of the birds in his kingdom
(as he was a most careless keeper of birds
and was always losing them), so then
he was forced to send his ambassadors to collect
and ship back to him from all over the world
the poor birds they (or anybody working for them)
could get their hands on.
Naturally, being all alone atop his castle
(and having no one to talk with),
his favorite birds were parrots,
especially those that could only say their names
--as he really didn't like anyone, including his parrots,
talking before being talked to by him:
He wanted them to only stand up and listen to him
when he spoke, calling out their names
when he had their roll called
... something he did every morning
as soon as he got out of bed
and every evening before he got back in it;
or whenever he was bored, actually.
It was said that in his lifetime
this very careless King had collected more than a million birds
(and over a thousand parrots in particular),
of which only three birds were left him in the end
so careless a caretaker of parrots was he.
Besides, having the power to demand
as many new parrots as he wanted,
the King felt absolutely no need to take anything
from any one of them
or to let even the smallest offense
(no matter how tiny)
by his birds go unpunished.
Like all the other birds which had 'gone' before them,
any of the King's parrot that let itself go,
even for the least little reason,
soon found itself paying a visit to the Royal Executioner
down at the bottom of the castle
(a fellow with the most annoying habit of whistling
Boccherini's Minuetto while going about his work).
The King's pockets were stuffed
with dozens of as-yet unsigned Warrants of Execution,
which he would sign at any least little
... and then Plop! "Off with it!" He'd shout:
"Off with it!" And off the top it would come.
From there it was usually: "To the kitchen!"
Where they then usually got into an awful stew.
(And a more than awful one.)
The Three Parrots.
This is no doubt the reasons why
parrots (once the kingdom's most commonly occurring bird)
were becoming harder and harder to obtain of lately.
Until finally in order to satisfy the King's never-ending demand
for new parrots that would only say their names
(as he got rid of those whose names got on his nerves
--And also got his courtiers sicker and sicker of parrot stew)
... his agents had to start taking even
the parrots that belonged to other people.
Of course, the other people were outraged,
but did little--They, at least (unlike birds),
still had brains enough not to lose their heads:
For by such means had the King's once huge parrot collection
been reduced to just only three birds:
OZ, who had been taught its name
(it was said) by a wizard,
and who was a very old bird, beautiful to behold,
and one which always behaved exactly as the King expected
a parrot to (so it had lived with the King the longest
by a week).
Then there was PLEIS, one of a pair of dainty birds
which had belonged to a well behaved lady.
(The other bird, ZANKOO, had not survived the King
two days.) This poor widowed bird, Pleis,
always kept an eye on the king and, lucky for her,
was almost always able to anticipate his every move
(it was the King's second favorite, also by a week).
Finally there was HEOLPF, the Vital Bird,
a rather scrawny parrot that had been taken from an army general
(a fellow who never over-prepared for anything in his life).
By the looks of the poor bird
Heolpf the parrot had probably been with the general
through a few too many unsuccessful wars
(and so had picked up the general's favorite battle-cry
as its name).
The King could see that his bird collectors
were scraping the bottom of the barrel
when they brought him Heolpf. But,
with the King, a bird was a bird,
so he didn't have the heads of the bird collectors chopped off:
Even though the name of this particular parrot
really got under his skin--
Thereby (from this parrot) hangs a tale:
For, you see, all three parrots had picked up the habit
of imitating the King's voice almost to perfection,
and every now and again the three birds would scream out their names
rather loudly one after the other one
in a different sequence each time:
"Pleis!" , "Oz!" , "Heolpf!"
Or, "Oz!" , "Heolpf!" , "Pleis!" and so on...
And if by chance
all three parrots happened to scream out their names
one after the other one in just the right sequence:
"Pleis!" , "Heolpf!" , "Oz!"
Or even, "Heolpf!" , "Oz!" , "Pleis!"
Then, thinking there was trouble within
and the King needed their help... very, very noisily
(since they all wore suits of armor)
and clumsily (tripping over each other
as the summit of the castle swung back and forth
with the wind)... all the guards within ear-shot
would rush into even the most private chambers
where the King was--
There, embarrassed at finding him sitting on
his most private Throne of all
reading the newspaper or some such
... they would have to stand at attention
until dismissed by him, of course, not daring to say a word,
and getting greener and sicker all this time
... staring at him (he thought) as if he had been
beating up on his parrots--
In that manner they would wait
until the King gave them the OK to leave
and again climb down to the more steady and less swinging
regions of his tall, thin castle.
This was just too much for the King to stand
(with his stiff little legs twitching
like a grasshopper's antennae gone crazy
in his terrible rage). So the King, who always kept
rolls and rolls of as-yet unsigned Warrants of Execution
hanging on practically every wall
(so many did he have need of)
... the King quickly signed Heolpf the parrot's Warrant of Execution
even before he had gotten back to his feet again.
Then he had his guards drag the scrawny parrot down
--all the way down to the court of the Royal Executioner.
"Heolpf! Heolpf!" Cried the poor bird as he went,
to no avail: Off the guards dragged him
with the general's favorite battle-cry in his beak.
The King's Great Fall.
Now, as was usual with this very careless King
whenever he sent a bird down to the Royal Executioner,
the King immediately started jumping up and down
with wicked joy (at the exciting idea of the great punishment
it was within his power to inflict on parrots)...
He started jumping in front of the other two birds
that were left, Oz and Pleis: Showing off
like some crazed peacock!
Leaping and stomping so much
that even the heavy gold perches the other two birds were standing on
also began jumping in time with the excited King!
Unfortunately for the King, though, he hadn't noticed
how windy a day this particular day was,
and, suddenly there came along a powerful wind-gust
that had just enough push to it
to instantly shove the whole summit of that tall, thin castle
aside--all the way to one side--And,
as luck would have it, just as the leaping King
had reached the highest point of the highest one of his leaps!
In a twinkling the King found himself standing in the air
outside one of his balconies
--with nothing but clouds under his feet
where the floor had been the previous instant!
In panic, the king grabbed for the only things
which had also bounced out through the balcony with him
(and were still within clutching distance):
the two parrots Pleis and Oz...
Thus his fall was somewhat slowed
by the struggle of the two birds
(which kept trying to fly while he hung on for dear life to their legs
and desperately wished he had at least one more parrot
to help break his fall
--only Heolpf wasn't there for him, of course):
Down fell the King, also
wishing as he was going down
that he hadn't made his castle as high as it was
by a long mile... until he finally dropped very hard
but still very much alive
into a courtyard which was so low at the bottom of the castle
that even the sun had trouble shining
from one end of it to the other--
Dark, sinister shadows hugged all its tall walls
(apparently the King had fainted for a while
after he hit the ground).
When he awoke and saw
Pleis and Oz also inside the courtyard
(a ways off) fainting and gasping for air on the floor,
the King thought himself extremely lucky to still be alive:
It was a miracle that he was all in one piece:
He rolled his eyes slowly (for even his eyeballs
were smarting from the fright and jolt of the fall)
... all the way up the side of his castle
... up and up to where its summit got
lost in the clouds and he shuddered!
Sitting on the painful floor
the King licked his licks and patted his lumpy lumps
(which were very many), and then he looked about himself
to see if he recognized where on the grounds of his castle
he had come to land out of the blue
(from his architects' blueprints--which he had
had a lot of time to study up there
where he had nothing to do but
to try to find anything to do, really):
"Aha!" he thought: "This is obviously
the Royal Executioner's private courtyard!"
That deadly and sinister place
to where he had just sent Heolpf the parrot.
The King smiled at the thought
that he might have beaten the poor bird down there
(depending on how long he'd been out
after he hit the ground):
Wouldn't Heolpf be surprised
if it found him waiting for him down here!
He even laughed, again filling up with wicked excitement.
But then he moaned in pain,
for many indeed were his lumps
even though a large muddy pig's wallow broke his fall.
Taking a closer look at the state he was in,
he could see that the fall had also left him looking
nothing at all like the King he was
(although under the shredded muddy remnants of his bathrobe
he was still mean enough to be laughing at
the whole idea of what had just happened).
And that's when, "Who's that out there!"
demanded the deep, powerful voice
of the Royal Executioner. While, in a tiff,
the King wrinkled his brow angrily
and (no matter that it had saved his life)
thought of what he would do to him for keeping such
a filthy, muddy pigsty of a courtyard.
The Royal Executioner.
"Who's that out there!?!"
demanded the Royal Executioner again.
Speaking with such terrible authority
that it even made the King think twice
about talking back to such a person.
"It's the King," he spoke,
a little more shyly than he had intended to speak,
as the huge shape of the Royal Executioner
stept out of the shadows
and took charge of the courtyard.
"Ha!" laughed the Royal Executioner
when his fierce eyes fell on the muddy King,
thinking: "Another one of them talking parrots."
And, "Another criminal bird," he told the King,
"which the King has booted down to us!"
For, having spent most of his life surrounded by birds,
the careless King had naturally picked up many of their habits
(like pruning himself) and
he had even started to look a little like a bird.
The Royal Executioner turned, and called: "Hoa, men!"
Loudly rattling the King's already rather loose brains.
Out came the two Royal Executioner's Assistants:
One Bit (who was more gullible than negligible)
and the other Biter (who was more carried away with
his loose feelings than his teeth).
"O gads, O gads," said Biter,
getting red in the face and pointing out
to his boss the Royal Executioner
that the only door into the courtyard was closed:
"Sir, how did he come into the yard?"
"Don't you know by now,"
the Royal Executioner answered with great contempt:
"Ours is a most careless king.
And sometimes he likes to deliver our 'customers' by air-mail?"
Pointing to the top of the tall, thin castle
up there above the clouds.
"True! True!" Said Bit and Biter at the same time.
"I wonder what this poor bird did
to deserve losing his head!" Bit thought out-loud.
While the King swallowed a king-sized gulp
as he watched Biter bringing out into the Sun
the Royal Executioner's huge axe.
Then the Royal Executioner began
whistling Boccherini's Minuetto!
"Hey! Hold it a minute!"
Cried the king: "I'm no criminal!"
"That's (basically) what all these birds say,"
Bit told Biter sadly: "Although, I dare say,
never in so many words!"
"But--I am the king!" said the king.
"Now that very few birds before you have told us,"
said Biter to the King, as if he'd been cracking a joke:
"In fact, I don't believe ANY parrot has
ever claimed to be the King!"
"Fret not," said the Royal Executioner:
"It's another one of those talking turkeys
the King wants stuffed for one of his Bird-brained feasts."
Then he told the King: "Don't worry my little feathered one,
the cook knows what he's doing
--He does a stupendous baked parrot!"
The King stood up on the pig-wallow at that,
all muddied up and torn to shreds from head to toes,
and protested: "Surely you know me!"
The Royal Executioner stopped whistling
Boccherini's Minuetto and came to take a closer look himself.
And, well, he did notice that this particular bird
did not come with very many feathers on it.
Although, unfortunately, the King still looked to him
like a turkey, for he was even fattened up
and deliciously pump (to look at).
Bit scratched his chin and told them,
"He does look a bit familiar."
A dull look in his face.
"Well, maybe he's your uncle then."
"Maybe he's a pig
what learned to stand up and speak like a regular person!"
Said the Royal Executioner.
And they all laughed some more.
(Bit didn't get the joke but laughed anyway.)
The King Looses His Head.
"Gosh," Bit wondered after the laughter died away:
"Can you imagine it: What if he really were the King?"
Then the careless King very carelessly told them:
"When I get out of this mess I'm going to have your heads
--All three of you!!!"
And that's when the Royal Executioner knew right there
that even if this very dirty bird in front of them was the King
(and, indeed, now especially)
it would go better for all three of their necks if this maybe
--and maybe not the--
King ... lost his head here and now.
So the Royal Executioner took up his axe
and very seriously said, "Enough
of this nonsense: There's work to be done!"
Then he again started whistling Boccherini's Minuetto.
The king was not amused: "You swine! You pigs!"
He said angrily, hardly able to control himself:
"Well, then, where's my Warrant of Execution?
The King--I mean: I
never send anyone down here without one!"
That was true;
even though the King was very careless indeed
about practically everything else,
on this point he always insisted:
Every bird to be executed always brought with it
a Warrant of Execution, or it just didn't come at all.
"Search him!" Said the Royal Executioner.
And in an instant his two assistants fell on the King
like a couple of rats on a pigeon.
There was a brief struggle and a few, "How dare you
lay your hands on the King!"
But finally Biter came out of the fracas with
not only one but more than three dozen
Warrants of Execution!
"My, my," said the Royal Executioner then,
shaking his head:
"This bird must have really been a pretty bad one
--Look how many Warrants of Execution
he brought with him!"
"Nonsense!" Said the King carelessly
(knowing that those were only as-yet unsigned Warrants
of Execution which he always kept with him
for any occasion): "How stupid can you fellows be!
You will not find anybody's name on those!
Go! Try and find one! Go ahead!"
The three men carefully examined all the Warrants
of Execution, every last one of them.
Then, turning to the King: "We... never... find,"
Biter said smugly, "anybody's name on any of the Warrants
of Execution our customers bring with them,
smarty pants: None of us can read!"
And that was when the King began to
suspect he was in a pickle:
"But... but," he stammered
even as the Royal Executioner again started whistling
Boccherini's Minuetto: "What crime have I been accused of?
What penalty have I been convicted of?
Don't you find out these things before--?"
"What penalty you have been convicted of,"
the Royal Executioner told the King, "is your business
--And only too obvious: Only people (and sundry birds
and beasts) who are to lose their heads end up down here.
As to what your crime is: It is enough
that you yourself know... and keep it to yourself:
I only like uplifting stories myself,
and never listen to tales in which the hero deserves to
have his head chopped off at the end--"
making a bitter face to go with his words.
"But can't you tell how I look exactly like the king!?"
The poor king was now almost begging the three men.
"Gads!" Biter suddenly cried out, aghast at the very idea of it
--startling the King, whose nerves were already jangled
by everything that had happened
and might yet happen to him: "That
would be an awful insult indeed--to the King:
If that's your offense then I'm surprised the King is only
having your head chopped off!
You can consider yourself a lucky bird indeed."
After which all three men took a much closer look
at this very dirty fellow standing there before them
looking like a cross between a tattered pig and a plucked chicken
(for none of them had ever seen their King
... and here was somebody saying that he
knew what the King looked like).
Then they just... burst out laughing,
and the Royal Executioner again started whistling
Boccherini's Minuetto as he continued to prepare his axe,
while his two assistants brought out the block.
"But... but... but," the King was now pleading
nothing like a king: "Couldn't one of you
just go up the castle and ask--"
"What!!!" The Royal Executioner interrupted him:
"You actually expect one of us to go up
to our actual King
and tell him he that looks like a common criminal
--and a very filthy one at that!?!"
Obviously, this even the King, who knew himself well enough,
even the King knew was quite out of the question.
"But... but," the King kept saying like a little drip
very softly and much more sweetly and gently
than he had ever had had to say before in all his life:
"Couldn't you just try to find someone, maybe one
of the King's royal guards or one of his ministers or counselors
--anyone who has seen the King face to face
and knows what he looks like? Pretty please!"
"Nope!" They all said in a chorus, short and sweet.
Then the King pretty much knew he'd had it.
And that he was going to get it.
"Besides," insisted Bit: "When you find them down here
... all those people you mentioned are usually sick
to their stomachs from having been to the top of the castle
to visit with our Bird-brained king
... and they never feel well enough to even speak with anyone
about anything when they come down here!"
The Motley Clown.
And you want to know what?
That poor King now really wished he hadn't been so bird-brained
and careless about everything: He really felt lost!
Biter and Bit then grabbed the muddy King (carefully,
as they knew he was a pretty slippery character),
each by one of the King's arms
and began leading him to the other side of the courtyard
where the Royal Executioner was already waiting for him
axe in hand, whistling up a storm's worth
of Boccherini's Minuetto.
That's when the King saw his two faithful birds,
Oz and Pleis, where they had been lying in a faint
all this time trying to recover their strength.
"Quickly! Quickly!" He called out to them:
"Oz! Pleis! Go, quickly! If you hurry NOW
you can still save me! Fly up the castle
as high as you can go and call out
to anybody you can find there," he cried to his parrots,
wishing he had sent them to college (and they could say
something more than just only their names)
even as the two Royal Executioner's Assistants continued to
drag him away to Boccherini's Minuetto:
"Quickly! Quickly--! Get me help! Get me help! Help!"
And even as the two parrots, Oz and Pleis, started
heavily and slowly flying up the castle
(since they were still very dead-tired),
in the distance a squawkishly eerie echo seemed to follow
immediately upon the King's last words:
"Heolpf! Heolpf! Heolpf!"
Bit and Biter pulled harder on the King.
"Let's go, let's go you criminal," said Biter
impatiently: "There is another customer inside
--which the King has just sent us.
And he can't wait to go right after you!
Can't you hear him celebrating himself
in the waiting room in there!"
And, indeed, in the distance the King again heard
a familiar squawk: "Heolpf! Heolpf!"
A cry he could recognize as coming from the parrot
he himself had condemned earlier.
Well, all his parrots could speak was their names
--And, now much to the King's regret,
by royal command of the King himself.
"Oh, how could I have been so careless!"
the King cried as the two Royal Executioner's Assistants
dragged him on. His only hope now
... those two birds winging their way (dead-tired)
up the castle to try to seek help for him up there.
Then, suddenly, the poor King realized that there
really was no Heolpf for him at all anywhere up there,
for that's when the King finally realized that Heolpf
was the Vital Bird, as you will see:
The other two birds flew up the castle
until they could fly no more (out of just plain tiredness).
And there they tried to find someone to
whom they could speak--What?...
First things first: The only person to be found
anywhere around up there happened to be
a motley clown, some poor old fellow
who was not only too stupid to get sick even at such high
altitudes but also taking a nap.
To him the two birds addressed their plea:
"Pleis!" , "Oz!" They screamed out at him:
"Pleis!" , "Oz!"
Until they got the old motley clown awake:
"Pleis!" , "Oz!"
The motley clown sat up and stared at the birds,
scratched his head in wonder
and said: "O, what a weird place this is!
Here have I worked now for... fifteen
(or fifty) years (can't remember which)
in this rocky castle and never once
have I even seen the King for whom I work.
Nor has anyone (not even the Royal Dish Washer)
ever asked me for a performance. And here
the first people that ask for my services
are these couple of birds!"
He toyed with the idea of refusing them
(out of professional pride).
But then, "Ah, what the heck:
An audience's an audience
(and I am coming up for retirement)..."
Well, sir, even as the two birds kept frantically
repeating their names at him,
the old motley clown started dancing a little
tight-rope-walking jig, wildly waiving his arms in the air;
then he stood on his head
(which was quite an accomplishment for a clown his age
--he fell two or three times or more);
and for his show-stopper
he hit each bird with a different-flavored
custard pie right on the face.
The startled parrots, who had lost their rhythm
and composure in the fray,
just managed a squawkish: "Ozdz!" , "Pleizedz!"
right through the whipped-cream
and custard covering their beaks.
While the old clown, tears in his eyes,
clasped his hands over his heart
(carried away with his--first and only--great artistic success),
took a deep bow
and blew kisses to them wildly in appreciation
... of having pleased them.
Then, a happy old clown indeed, he went away
dancing and singing and whistling as he went
--to his house (where the following morning
he read in the newspaper how the careless king
had somehow managed to misplace his head)...
"Well, he was a very careless king," said the editorial:
"It was bound to happen sooner or later..."
And, "Rats!" Said the old clown sadly,
"Now I'll have to look for another job
--at the very heights of my artistic success too!"
But, despair not
--There were happy endings all around:
The old clown retired on a full pension not long after this.
Heolpf the parrot's life was spared
the moment the King lost his head so carelessly.
The King himself spent the rest of his life
trying to see where his head had landed
--And the next king was a very good and kind king,
who never touched a single feather
on a bird in all his life.
Bit became a fabulously rich doctor;
and Biter a very successful lawyer
(and richer than Bit
by suing him often for malpractice)...
While the Royal Executioner,
who had to start whistling a different tune
... for he too lost his job when the next king took office,
became a lumberjack
(since he'd already had a lot of practice chopping things).
He was very good at it, too,
and he even managed to save Little Red Riding Hood
and her Grandmother from a wolf once
--But of course: that's a different story altogether.
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