A Bird’s Prophecy

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2004

By Annam Nayak, Illustrated by Nicolas Hugon

The kingdom of Raja Bhaskarendra was administered by governors, who had many powers in their own provinces. The office of the governor passed from father to son, as did the crown of the king himself. One of these governors was Raja Dhaval. His son Venky was the pride and joy of his life.

One fateful day, Dhaval came across Venky as he sat under a tree, looking up at its branches and uttering strange sounds that did not belong to any human language. As the governor approached, there was a flap and flutter of wings and several birds flew away. “Oh Father, you have frightened them away!” Venky said reproachfully. “They were telling me about the great ocean—that blue expanse under the sun, all day long.”

“But how can you know that, son?” Dhaval asked. “The birds do not speak our language.”

“Yet I understand them,” Venky said. “I can talk to them as if I was one of them.”

As the years went by, Venky’s powers did not lessen. He grew into a youth blessed with wisdom and courage as well as a supernatural power—the ability to talk to the birds. All the people declared Venky a worthy heir to follow in his father’s footsteps.

But one black day, something happened to turn the old chief’s anger against his son and cause him to leave the land of his birth in sorrow. While Venky was waiting on his father at the table one evening, Dhaval pointed at the birds seated on the windowsill, chattering animatedly. “Tell me, my son,” he asked, “what are those birds saying? I have never known them to be so noisy before.”

A Bird's Prophecy surrounded bu birds

He spoke to the little birds circling the terrace

Venky lowered his eyes. “If I answer your question, Father, you may get angry.”

Naturally, this reply only made the governor all the more curious. He persisted and at last, Venky told him, “They are saying that one day, our positions will be changed. It will be you who will be waiting upon me at this very same table.”

As soon as the governor heard these words, he was filled with wrath, for what could such a prophecy mean but that one day, his son would rise against him? “Traitor!” cried the old man. “Would you betray your own father? Leave my home and never let me see you again!”

And in spite of his protestations of loyalty and devotion to his father, Venky was forced to say goodbye to the home he had known all his life. He left as a poor man with nothing but the clothes on his back. He managed to get taken as a new member on a ship bound for Sri Lanka. Over there, Venky continued his journey on foot across the countryside with a heart ready for adventure.

Before long, he entered into the grounds of the king of those areas. As he drew near the gateway, he heard the sound of sawing. An army of woodcutters was felling the trees that stood in the palace courtyard. But that wasn’t all. To Venky’s astonishment, he saw that the sky around the palace was full of birds whose shrill cries fell ceaselessly upon his ears, forcing him to shield them with his hands. A royal servant nodded to him. “Ah stranger, you may well try to shut your ears, but it’s useless. Not only outside but also inside the palace, we are assailed with this incessant noise. It’s enough to drive a man out of his mind. The king is at his wits’ end to know how to get rid of this plague.”

At once Venky realized how he might be able to help the royal household in their time of trouble. He asked for an audience with the king. A valet led the way through the long galleries where sparrows beat their wings against the paneled walls and across the terrace where the ladies of the court vainly tried to converse with each other above the never-ending racket. The king was on the terrace as well, his chin gripped in one bejeweled hand, in an attitude of deep despair.

“Excuse me, your Majesty,” Venky began. “I think I may be able to rid you of this feathered curse that has fallen on your palace.”

At once, the king’s face brightened and a gleam of hope flashed in his eyes. “If what you say is true,” he declared, “your reward will be great. But how will you accomplish this?”

Venky told the king about his ability to speak with the birds in their own tongue. “There must be some reason, Sire, why the birds are waging their shrill warfare with you.” He spoke to the little birds circling the terrace, uttering the strange sounds his father first heard under the tree. At once, the birds flew to his shoulder with excited chattering. The king could not understand any of it, but Venky understood perfectly “Why Sire, it’s really quite simple,” he said. “The birds are furious because you have ordered your woodcutters to chop down the trees in which they build their nests. If you stop this destruction, they promise they will plague you no more.”

At once the king issued orders to stop the cutting. And no sooner had the last ax been laid to rest than from every nook and cranny of the palace, a huge flock of birds rose and soared out to rebuild their nests among the trees. From that day, not even one little bird ever troubled the king. True to his word, the king rewarded Venky with gold and a ship fully equipped and manned. Venky set sail in this ship and wherever he went, he gained wealth and wisdom. Yet he never forgot his old home and after ten years, he returned to his home shores.

His rich ship with its golden prow anchored in his father’s province. Venky’s clansmen gaped at the magnificence of the ship and wondered which rich stranger had sailed into their midst. As was the custom, the governor came out to welcome the stranger and offer his hospitality Dhaval did not recognize his son. He was sure that this glittering stranger was a relative of the king himself and so he treated him with all the honor due to a young nobleman. As master of the province, Dhaval waited upon the young man at the same table where Venky had waited on him years ago.

Unable to bear it any more, Venky cried, “My father, do you not remember your son? You sent me away in wrath because of a prophecy—it has come true, for you are waiting upon me at your own table. Oh Father, I repeat, I never had any thoughts of treachery against you. Please receive me as your son again!”

And Dhaval did. The unhappy rift between the father and son was healed. In the sight of everyone assembled, Dhaval restored his son to his inheritance. Great was the rejoicing in the province at the heir’s return—Venky the famous traveler!

The tales of Venky’s wanderings, his deeds and exploits reached far and wide, even to the ears of Raja Bhaskarendra, who found him to be a man of wisdom and appointed him as the governor of six provinces. Venky’s adventures were many and became the stuff of legend, but they must be narrated another time!

A Bird's Prophecy Annam Nayak

Annam Nayak, 12
Mysore, India

A Bird's Prophecy Nicolas Hugon

Nicolas Hugon, 12
Weston, Massachusetts

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