The Halcyon Birds

by Lenore Elizabeth Mulets

That evening Phyllis opened a new book and on almost the first page she saw something about the halcyon birds.

"Perhaps it is Jack's story," she said. Then she curled herself up on the soft sofa and this is the story she read.

In the beautiful long ago, in the wonderful country of Greece there lived a king, wise and just and peaceful. His people loved him.

The king lived in a marble palace on the top of a low hill. With him lived his wife, the lovely Queen Halcyone.

But though the king was wise and just and good, his heart was sad. There was unrest in the land. Troubles were rife in Greece.

At length one day the king came to the room where Queen Halcyone sat with her maids. They were spinning carefully and happily together.

"My Halcyone—my queen," said the king, "as you know, I am greatly troubled and disturbed. I do not know what is the best thing for me to do. I must seek wise advice from the gods."

Queen Halcyone dropped her distaff and looked in fear at the king.

"I must go," said the king to Halcyone, "on a long journey across the seas. As you know, in the Temple of Apollo there is a wise oracle. To this oracle must I go in search of counsel."

Then the lovely Queen Halcyone's heart was filled with sorrow. She feared that harm might come to the king, whom she loved for his goodness and his kindness.

Halcyone fell on her knees before the king. She begged him to postpone this terrible journey across the seas.

"Indeed," cried she, "there are cruel dangers, O my king! The journey is long and wearisome. Remain at home with me!"

The king smiled pityingly upon his lovely queen. He kissed her gently before he answered.

"It seems to me," he said, sadly, "that there is no other way. I must go."

"Ah, then, I pray, take me also. Let me share the dangers and the weariness."

"You could not—" the king began.

"In truth it would be easier far than to bear the loneliness and dread when you are gone. It would be weary waiting for your return!"

Now the king loved Halcyone. He longed to remain at home with her. But already the boat lay ready for departure—and there was no place for Halcyone.

Already the oarsmen sat at their benches ready to row away. So the king bade Halcyone farewell and stepped on board and quickly pushed off.

With bitter tears Halcyone stood on the bank and watched the king's boat push out from shore.

When it looked but a speck she shaded her eyes with her hand and still watched. But when in the purple distance the tiny speck could no longer be seen, Halcyone turned with a sigh to the marble palace and her maidens.

On and on across the waters the little boat sped. For a time all went well. At night the stars shone. In the morning the sun arose from the blue waters and travelled across a cloudless sky. Gentle winds blew, filling the sails and pushing the little boat quietly on its way.

But one day a change came over the sea. The moaning of the wind was heard. Dark clouds scurried across the sky.

The waves rose high and broke in white crests of foam. The rain poured down. The wind crept up and sprang upon the little boat with fury.

For a time the boat rose and fell with the waves. It pitched and rolled and reeled. Great waves splashed over it, washing the oarsmen overboard.

The masts were torn away. At last the little boat, buried in the trough of the wave, sank beneath the water.

The king and all his crew lay buried deep beneath the deep blue sea.

Weeks passed. Months passed. A year went by.

Queen Halcyone wandered restlessly up and down the shore. With weary eyes she watched the purple distance. But the king did not return.

She prayed to the gods that they would guard and protect the king whom she loved so dearly. She went to the sacred altars of her country, and burned incense there.

When the goddess Juno heard the prayers and saw the tears of the lovely Queen Halcyone, she was sad for her. Juno called to her side the beautiful rainbow messenger, Iris.

"Iris," said Juno, "this night I wish you to go down on your rainbow bridge to the god of dreams.

"Ask him to send to Halcyone a dream which shall tell her of the fate of her husband, the king. It is better that she should know what has befallen him whom she loved than to wander thus in uncertainty."

So Iris, the beautiful messenger, swept down to the god of dreams—and that night Halcyone dreamed that the king came to her and told her his story. He told her how the boat and all therein had long since been buried under the sea.

"Be brave, my Halcyone," said the shade of the dead king. "Be brave and patient, and soon perchance, if the gods will, thou shalt come to me in the land of shades."

When the dream left her, Halcyone sprang from her couch and ran again to the seashore. She stretched out her arms and called aloud to Aeolus, the father of the winds.

"O great father Aeolus," she prayed, "give me wings so large and strong that they will carry me to the spot where the king now lies.

"Hear me, Aeolus! Hear Halcyone, thy child!"

And as she prayed, lo, she rose slowly into the air. The folds of her blue robe enwrapped her.

Halcyone floated out across the sea. Again and again her breast touched the white crest of the waves and left its foam on her throat and on the bosom of her dress.

On and on she sped across the billowy waters. Her wings were firm, strong, untiring.

At last, floating upon the water she spied the form of the king. With a hoarse rattling in her throat she called to him.

With her strong wings outspread, Halcyone hung motionless above the king. Those broken cries came again and again from her throat.

And Juno, looking down from her cloudland home, saw Halcyone kneeling on the waves beside the dead king. She leaned down from her place in the heavens and touched the king's forehead.

Lo! there rose from the water two strong-winged birds in dresses of blue and white.

"Ah," sighed Aeolus, "let us call them the halcyon birds, for the lovely Halcyone, whose love did not fail her.

"Let these birds live ever beside the waters and rear their young in peace and quiet.

"Behold, when Halcyone broods over her little ones I will hold my winds in check. The waters shall be quiet and the sun shall shine merrily.

"And these days of peace and quiet and happiness shall be called 'halcyon days,' for ever."