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The Palace Of The Eagles

from Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends





East of the Land of the Rising Sun there dwelled a king who spent all
his days and half his nights in pleasure. His kingdom was on the edge
of the world, according to the knowledge of those times, and almost
entirely surrounded by the sea. Nobody seemed to care what lay beyond
the barrier of rocks that shut off the land from the rest of the
world. For the matter of that, nobody appeared to trouble much about
anything in that kingdom.

Most of the people followed the example of the king and led idle,
careless lives, giving no thought to the future. The king regarded the
task of governing his subjects as a big nuisance; he did not care to
be worried with proposals concerning the welfare of the masses, and
documents brought to him by his advisors for signature were never
read. For aught he knew they may have referred to the school
regulations of the moon, instead of the laws of trading and such like
public matters.

"Don't bother me," was his usual remark. "You are my advisors and
officers of state. Deal with affairs as you think best."

And off he would go to his beloved hunting which was his favorite
pastime.

The land was fertile, and nobody had ever entertained an idea that bad
weather might some year affect the crops and cause a scarcity of
grain. They took no precautions to lay in stocks of wheat, and so when
one summer there was a great lack of rain and the fields were parched,
the winter that followed was marked by suffering. The kingdom was
faced by famine, and the people did not like it. They did not know
what to do, and when they appealed to the king, he could not help
them. Indeed, he could not understand the difficulty. He passed it off
very lightly.

"I am a mighty hunter," he said. "I can always kill enough beasts to
provide a sufficiency of food."

But the drought had withered away the grass and the trees, and the
shortage of such food had greatly reduced the number of animals. The
king found the forests empty of deer and birds. Still he failed to
realize the gravity of the situation and what he considered an
exceedingly bright idea struck him.

"I will explore the unknown territory beyond the barrier of rocky
hills," he said. "Surely there will I find a land of plenty. And, at
least" he added, "it will be a pleasant adventure with good hunting."

A great expedition was therefore arranged, and the king and his
hunting companions set forth to find a path over the rocks. This was
not at all difficult, and on the third day, a pass was discovered
among the crags and peaks that formed the summit of the barrier, and
the king saw the region beyond.

It seemed a vast and beautiful land, stretching away as far as the eye
could see in a forest of huge trees. Carefully, the hunters descended
the other side of the rock barrier and entered the unknown land.

It seemed uninhabited. Nor was there any sign of beast or bird of any
kind. No sound disturbed the stillness of the forest, no tracks were
visible. As well as the hunters could make out, no foot had ever
trodden the region before. Even nature seemed at rest. The trees were
all old, their trunks gnarled into fantastic shapes, their leaves
yellow and sere as if growth had stopped ages ago.

Altogether the march through the forest was rather eerie, and the
hunters proceeded in single file, which added to the impressiveness of
the strange experience. The novelty, however, made it pleasant to the
king, and he kept on his way for four days.

Then the forest ended abruptly, and the explorers came to a vast open
plain, a desert, through which a wide river flowed. Far beyond rose a
mountain capped by rocks of regular shape. At any rate, they appeared
to be rocks, but the distance was too great to enable anyone to speak
with certainty.

"Water," said the vizier, "is a sign of life."

So the king decided to continue as far as the mountain. A ford was
discovered in the river, and once on the other side it was possible to
make out the rocks crowning the mountain. They looked too regular to
be mere rocks, and on approaching nearer the king was sure that a huge
building must be at the top of the mountain. When they arrived quite
close, there was no doubt about it. Either a town, or a palace, stood
on the summit, and it was decided to make the ascent next day.

During the night no sound was heard, but to everybody's surprise a
distinct path up the mountain was noticed in the morning. It was so
overgrown with weeds and moss and straggling creepers that it was
obvious it had not been used for a long time. The ascent was
accordingly difficult, but half way up the first sign of life, noticed
since the expedition began, made itself visible.

It was an eagle. Suddenly it flew down from the mountain top and
circled above the hunters, screaming, but making no attempt to attack.

At length the summit was gained. It was a flat plateau of great
expanse, almost the whole of which was covered by an enormous building
of massive walls and stupendous towers.

"This is the palace of a great monarch," said the king.

But no entrance of any kind could be seen. The rest of the day was
spent in wandering round, but nowhere was a door, or window, or
opening visible. It was decided to make a more serious effort next
morning to gain entry.

However, it seemed a greater puzzle than ever. At length, one of the
most venturesome of the party discovered an eagle's nest on one of the
smallest towers, and with great difficulty he secured the bird and
brought it down to the king. His majesty bade one of his wise men,
Muflog, learned in bird languages, to speak to it. He did so.

In a harsh croaking voice, the eagle replied, "I am but a young bird,
only seven centuries old. I know naught. On a tower higher than that
on which I dwell, is the eyrie of my father. He may be able to give
you information."

More he would not say. The only thing to do was to climb the higher
tower and question the father eagle. This was done, and the bird
answered:

"On a tower still higher dwells my father, and on yet a higher tower
my grandfather, who is two thousand years old. He may know something.
I know nothing."

After considerable difficulty the topmost tower was reached and the
venerable bird discovered. He seemed asleep and was only awakened
after much coaxing. Then he surveyed the hunters warily.

"Let me see, let me think," he muttered slowly. "I did hear, when I
was a tiny eagle chick, but a few years old--that was long, long
ago--that my great-grandfather had said that his great-grandfather had
told him he had heard that long, long, long ago--oh, ever so much
longer than that--a king lived in this palace; that he died and left
it to the eagles; and that in the course of many, many, many thousands
of years the door had been covered up by the dust brought by the
winds."

"Where is the door?" asked Muflog.

That was a puzzle the ancient bird could not answer readily. He
thought and thought and fell asleep and had to be kept being awakened
until at last he remembered.

"When the sun shines in the morning," he croaked, "its first ray falls
on the door."

Then, worn out with all his thinking and talking, he fell asleep
again.

There was no rest for the party that night. They all watched to make
certain of seeing the first ray of the rising sun strike the palace.
When it did so, the spot was carefully noted. But no door could be
seen. Digging was therefore begun and after many hours, an opening was
found.

Through this an entrance was effected into the palace. What a
wonderful and mysterious place it was, all overgrown with the weeds of
centuries! Tangled masses of creepers lay everywhere--over what were
once trimly kept pathways, and almost completely hiding the lower
buildings. In the crevices of the walls, roots had insinuated
themselves, and by their growth had forced the stones apart. It was
all a terrible scene of desolation. The king's men had to hack a way
laboriously through the wilderness of weeds with their swords to the
central building, and when they did so they came to a door on which
was an inscription cut deep into the wood. The language was unknown to
all but Muflog, who deciphered it as follows:

"We, the Dwellers in this Palace, lived for many years in
Comfort and Luxury. Then Hunger came. We had made no
preparation. We had amassed jewels in abundance but not Corn. We
ground Pearls and Rubies to fine flour, but could make no Bread.
Wherefore we die, bequeathing this Palace to the eagles who will
devour our bodies and build their eyries on our towers."

A dread silence fell on the whole party when Muflog read these strange
words, and the king turned pale. This warning from the dead past was
making the adventure far from enjoyable. Some of the party suggested
the immediate abandonment of the expedition and the prompt return
home. They feared hidden dangers now. But the king remained resolute.

"I must investigate this to the end," he said in a firm voice. "Those
who are seized by fear may return. I will go on, if needs be, alone."

Encouraged by these words, the hunters decided to remain with the
king. One of them began to batter at the door, but the king was
anxious to preserve the inscription, and after more cutting away of
weeds, the key was seen to be sticking in the keyhole. Unlocking the
door, however, was no light task, for ages of rust had accumulated.
When finally this was accomplished the door creaked heavily on its
hinges and a musty smell came from the dank corridor that was
revealed.

The explorers walked ankle-deep in dust through a maze of rooms until
they came to a big central hall of statues. So artistically fashioned
were they that they seemed lifelike in their attitudes, and for a
moment all held their breath. This hall was dustless, and Muflog
pointed out that it was an airtight chamber. Evidently it had been
specifically devised to preserve the statues.

"These must be the effigies of kings," said his majesty, and on
reading the inscriptions, Muflog said that was so.

At the far end of the hall, on a pedestal higher than the others, was
a statue bigger than the rest. In addition to the name there was an
inscription on the pedestal. Muflog read it amid an awed stillness:

"I am the last of the kings--yea, the last of men, and with my
own hands have completed this work. I ruled over a thousand
cities, rode on a thousand horses, and received the homage of a
thousand vassal princes; but when Famine came I was powerless.
Ye who may read this, take heed of the fate that has overwhelmed
this land. Take but one word of counsel from the last of the
mortals; prepare thy meal while the daylight lasts * * *"

The words broke off: the rest was undecipherable.

"Enough," cried the king, and his voice was not steady. "This has
indeed been good hunting. I have learned, in my folly and pursuit of
pleasure, what I had failed to see for myself. Let us return and act
upon the counsel of this king who has met the end that will surely be
our own should we forget his warning."

Looking out across the plain they had traversed, his majesty seemed to
see a vision of prosperous cities and smiling fertile fields. In
imagination, he saw caravans laden with merchandise journeying across
the intervening spaces. Then, as darker thoughts followed, a cloud
appeared to settle over the whole land. The cities crumbled and
disappeared, the eagles swooped down and took possession of that which
man had failed to appreciate and hold; and after the eagles the dust
of the ages settled slowly, piling itself up year by year until
everything was covered and only the desert was visible.

Scarcely a word was spoken as the king and his hunters made their way
back to the land East of the Rising Sun. In all, they had been away
forty days when they re-crossed the barrier of rocks. They were
joyously welcomed.

"What have you brought," asked the populace. "In a little while we
shall be starving."

"Ye shall not starve," said the king. "I have brought wisdom from the
Palace of the Eagles. From the fate and sufferings of others I have
learned a lesson--my duty."

At once he set to work to organize the proper distribution of the food
supply and the cultivation of the land. He wasted no more time on
foolish pleasures, and in due course the land East of the Rising Sun
enjoyed happiness and prosperity and even established fruitful
colonies in the plain overlooked by the Palace of the Eagles.





Next: The Giant Of The Flood

Previous: The Mother Murre



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