14. The Crappy Bird

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Once upon a time, there lived an ornithologist who ruled wisely and fairly over his bird cages, fossils and scientific notes. It just so happened that this ornithologist was also a king, who occasionally had to rule over a thing called "kingdom", but this little detail escaped him most of the time.

One day, while walking in his garden, he saw, far overhead, a golden flash pass by. And when gazing through his telescope, he saw that it was a beautiful golden bird—the most beautiful bird he had ever seen in his life.

"If only I could have that bird in my collection," he exclaimed, so agitated that his crown fell off his head, "It would be my crowning achievement!"

But he could not simply leave all his dear birds alone to go chasing after this one. So what could he possibly do?

And suddenly, a brilliant idea struck him. Half an hour later, the king was lying in bed under a mountain of blankets, with all the priests and healers of the kingdom gathered around him. When his three sons entered, they immediately rushed towards him.

"Father! What is wrong?"

He weakly gestured for them to keep back. "Don't come—cough, cough!—any closer—cough, cough! I'm at death's door, and probably highly contagious. Argh, argh, it hurts so much, groan, whimper, whimper."

The two elder sons fell to their knees, overcome by sorrow. The youngest, and somewhat more intelligent one, Prince Juan, however, crossed his arms in front of his chest. "So you are at death's door, are you? Does it have an interesting door knocker?"

The king threw him an irritated look. "Don't interrupt! I'm dramatically dying over here!"

"So sorry, father. Do carry on."

"Hm, where was I...? Ah yes. Cough, cough, groan! I am so sorry that I have to depart from you so soon, my dearest children."

"It's not that soon, actually. You took your time."

That remark earned Prince Juan another irritated look, but the king didn't let himself be interrupted this time. "My healers assure me there—Groan!—is no hope. I am lost. I shall die a prolonged and—cough, cough, argh!—painful death over the next few days, and not all their arts of medicine can save me."

"Oh no, father!" Exclaimed the oldest son. "Isn't there anything we can do?"

"Yes," added the second-oldest son. "Can we not save your life somehow?"

The king shook his royal head sadly. "No. There is no way. Unless...but no! I cannot ask that of anyone. Especially not of my dear, dear, children. I could never endanger your lives in such a manner. Besides, it would be far beyond your skill and bravery."

"What?" the oldest son demanded.

"What?" the second-oldest son demanded.

Prince Juan just sighed and slumped into an armchair.

"Well," the old king said, "there is a certain beautiful golden bird—"

"Of course there is," said Prince Juan.

The other three threw him accusatory looks, and he held up his hands placatingly, then picked up a book from the coffee table and started reading.

"There is a certain golden bird," the king began again, "whose feathers have magical healing power. If someone were to tickle my nose with a feather of this golden bird, I would instantly get well again."

"How wonderful!" the oldest prince exclaimed. "I shall instantly start hunting the bird, and shoot it down for you!"

"Noooo!" The old king nearly jumped out of his bed, which was impressive, considering how mortally sick he was and all that. "I mean—cough, cough!—the bird's feathers will only keep their magic healing powers if the bird is still alive, and healthy, and in pristine condition for being studied and catalogued."

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