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The Tortoise And The Birds

Why the Tortoise has a cracked shell.......

Long, long ago, besides the animals of the earth and birds of the air, there lived strange creatures whose home was far above the clouds. They were good and kind, and although it was only the birds who had ever seen them, the animals knew they were there. But no one knew their name.

One year there was drought everywhere and both birds and beasts were nearly dead from hunger. The Cloud People looked down in pity upon the earth dwellers and said, "Come up, all you who have wings, and let us feed you, for here there is plenty to eat."

The birds were delighted, and the news went from bird to bird that they should gather upon a certain big rock. They would fly up together from there. While they were waiting for the late arrivals they twittered excitedly about the feast awaiting them. In this rock were many hollows and holes and in one of them lived two tortoises. They, too, were suffering from hunger, and while his wife was away hunting for a morsel of food, her husband listened to the excited chattering of the birds.

"Oh, I wish I had wings like you, my friends!" he said, coming out of his hole to join them. "Can't you take me with you?” I'm just as hungry as you are. "Of course, he realized, he did not look like a bird, but since the invitation had included all the creatures that could fly, the Cloud People would surely take pity on him too.

"We'd be happy to have you with us," answered the birds, "but you are too heavy for us to carry, and you can't fly without wings."
"Oh, but I'm starving!" he sobbed. They listened to him with sympathy, and discussed the matter among themselves.
"Couldn't we each pluck a feather from our wings, and fix them to his feet?" they wondered.

Tortoise with wings

This was an exciting idea. Then, when they arrived above the clouds, they could proudly present the tortoise as their king. Without delay they set to work, and it was a strange looking creature that at last took to the air surrounded by his feathered friends.

The birds couldn't help laughing because he looked so funny, but their plan succeeded and the tortoise soared into the sky with them.

"What shall we call him?" the birds asked one another as they neared the home of their cloud friends. Many names were suggested, and they finally decided that he should be called "All Of You", meaning that he was to represent all of them – the greatest of them all. So when they arrived he was introduced as King All Of You.

The Cloud People were very honoured to think that the birds had brought their king to visit them, and at once prepared a great feast. "Whose food is this?" asked the birds politely, as they were taken into the hut where all the fine dishes were spread out.

"It is for 'all of you', replied the Cloud People. The tortoise, hearing his new name called out strode forward and, with great relish ate nearly all the food that had been provided, leaving very little indeed for his companions.

"It must be their custom", thought the Cloud People, "to see that their king satisfies his wants, before they eat themselves." So they stood aside while the tortoise enjoyed all the food within his reach.

The birds were so angry at the tortoise's greed, that after they had picked up the few scraps of food that were left, they took back all the feathers they had so carefully attached to his feet. Now he had no way to return to earth. Although it was no more than he deserved, he was weeping and wailing when the birds flew away, leaving him to his fate.

The parrot was the last to leave. "Please, friend parrot," begged the unfortunate tortoise, "have pity upon me. Please go at once to my wife and tell her to gather all the soft grass that she can find, and to pile it high near the big rock, so that I can land on it safely, for otherwise I shall be killed."

However, the parrot was as hungry as the other birds, so he, too, was angry. The message he took to the tortoise's wife was that he husband wished her to gather as many rocks and stones as she was able, and to build them into a platform, on which he would land.

This the wife duly did, and down jumped the tortoise. What a crash-landing! His nice smooth shell was broken into many pieces, and although his wife nursed him devotedly, the scars left between his bits of broken shell never left him.

They have shown to this very day on all tortoises' ever since – a reminder of the day when he jumped from the clouds.

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