The Palace Of The Eagles





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.





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