The Yellow Bird

Once upon a time there was a king who lived in a tower without a door. There were windows on every side of the tower, high above the ground. The king used to stand at the windows and watch the people in his kingdom going about their business, and he wondered what it would be like to go anywhere and do anything one pleased. One day the king turned from the windows to find a beautiful woman dressed all in green standing in the middle of his tower room.


“If you do as I say,” she told him, “you can break the spell that keeps you trapped in your tower, and you can have me for your wife.”


She was so beautiful to behold, and her promise was so tempting, that he agreed without first asking what he must do.


“On the night of the new moon you must allow me to kill you and to cut you up into pieces. When I have done this, I will cover you with a shroud that I have woven for you, and I will weep over your body for three days and three nights. On the fourth day you will arise, healed and whole, and we will be wed and your kingdom will be restored to you.”


The king was sorely afraid when she told him what he had promised. but he was an honorable man and knew he must keep his word.


“As a token of my faith, I give you this yellow bird. She will fly far and wide over your kingdom, and report back to you all that happens. In this way, you will be ready to govern when you are freed. You will know who is a thief and who is in need and who is virtuous and kind.”


And so it came to pass. Every day the king would send the yellow bird out into the land, and every night the bird would come back and tell him tales of the people. He learned who was a thief, and who was in need, and who was virtuous and kind. He learned the face of his kingdom so well from his little friend that by the time the new moon came he was, indeed, ready to govern wisely.


On the night of the new moon the green lady stood once more in the center of his tower room. Before her was a large basket and in her hand was a gleaming sword. “Kneel before this basket so that your head will fall in when I cut it off,” she commanded. Quaking with terror, he did so, after thanking the yellow bird for her friendship and service. The green lady first cut off his head, which landed neatly in the basket. Then she cut off his arms and put them in the basket. Then she cut off his legs and put them in likewise. Lastly she picked up his trunk and put it in the basket also.


She carried the basket to a bier she had arranged on the roof of the tower, and she laid him out on the bier as if he were whole again. Over him she threw a shroud she had woven of fine linen, green with white stars throughout, and she began to weep. For three days and three nights the green lady wept piteously so that the shroud was drenched with her tears. She pulled at her hair and beat her breast and mourned for him as if her own beloved had died and would never return. The yellow bird sat at his feet the entire time and sang tunes so mournful that the people below stopped in their tracks and wept.


But at sunrise on the fourth day, the instant the sun peeped over the horizon, the lady dried her eyes and the bird ceased her song. Then the lady flung back the tear-stained shroud and saw that her lover was whole again, though he bore scars where she had cut off his head and his arms and his legs. She leaned forward and kissed his lips as the sun warmed his death-cold face, and he awoke.


In wonder, he took her hand as she led him down the stairs of the tower and out into the courtyard where a priest was waiting to marry them. All the lords and ladies of the land were assembled, and it was a fine wedding. The king was a kind and able ruler, and with the green lady by his side and the yellow bird on his shoulder, he governed well and lived happily all the rest of his days.


One thought on “The Yellow Bird

  1. Uncle Vinny

    This one puzzles me… I’m not sure I get it, or maybe it’s that the lesson it’s teaching is a little different than many fairy tales. There’s no demonization of any trait or person. If we knew how the King ended up in the tower to begin with, we could say, “a ha, that mean old wizard put him up there, therefore…”

    The green and yellow seem like they could be significant, but the king doesn’t get a color.

    Anyhoo, I love your stories. You should, like, teach a class on fairy tales or something!

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