Many years ago there lived several wild tribes round the King of Persia's city, and the king's men were always annoying and harassing them, exacting yearly a heavy tribute. Now these tribes, though very brave in warfare, could not hold their own before the Persian army when sent out against them, so that they paid their yearly tribute grudgingly, but took revenge, whenever they could, upon travellers to or from the city, robbing and killing them.
At last one of the tribesmen, a clever old chieftain, thought of a cunning plan whereby to defeat the Persians, and free themselves from the yearly tribute. And this was his scheme:
The wild wastes where these tribes lived were infested with large birds called "Rohs", [Footnote: Pronounced softly.] which were very destructive to human beings—devouring men, women, and children greedily whenever they could catch them. Such a terror were they that the tribes had to protect their village with high walls, [Footnote: Can this have anything to do with the idea of walling-in the cuckoo?] and then they slept securely, for the Roh hunted by night. This old chieftain determined to watch the birds, and find out their nesting-places; so he had a series of towers built, in which the watchmen could sleep securely by night. These towers were advanced in whatever direction the birds were seen to congregate by night. The observers reported that the Roh could not fly, but ran very swiftly, being fleeter than any horse.
At length, by watching, their nesting-places were found in a sandy plain, and it was discovered that those monstrous birds stole sheep and cattle in great numbers.
The chieftain then gave orders for the watchmen to keep on guard until the young birds were hatched, when they were commanded to secure fifty, and bring them into the walled town. The order was carried out, and one night they secured fifty young birds just out of the egg, and brought them to the town.
The old chieftain then told off fifty skilful warriors, a man to each bird, to his son being allotted the largest bird. These warriors were ordered to feed the birds on flesh, and to train them for battle. The birds grew up as tame as horses. Saddles and bridles were made for them, and they were trained and exercised just like chargers.
When the next tribute day came round, the King of Persia sent his emissaries to collect the tax, but the chieftains of the tribes insulted and defied them, so that they returned to the king, who at once sent forward his army.
The chieftain then marshalled his men, and forty-six of the Rohs were drawn up in front of the army, the chief getting on the strongest bird. The remaining four were placed on the right flank, and ordered at a signal to advance and cut off the army, should they retreat.
The Rohs had small scales, like those of a fish, on their necks and bodies, the scales being hidden under a soft hair, except on the upper half of the neck. They had no feathers except on their wings. So they were invulnerable except as to the eyes—for in those days the Persians only had bows and arrows, and light javelins. When the Persian army advanced, the Rohs advanced at lightning speed, and made fearful havoc, the birds murdering and trampling the soldiers under foot, and beating them down with their powerful wings. In less than two hours half the Persian army was slain, and the rest had escaped. The tribes returned to their walled towns, delighted with their victory.
When the news of his defeat reached the King of Persia he was wroth beyond expression, and could not sleep for rage. So the next morning he called for his magician.
"What are you going to do with the birds?" asked the king.
"Well, I've been thinking the matter over," replied the magician.
"Cannot you destroy all of them?"
"No, your majesty; I cannot destroy them, for I have not the power; but I can get rid of them in one way; for though I cannot put out life, I have the power of turning one life into some other living creature."
"Well, what will you turn them into?" asked the king.
"I'll consider to-night, your majesty," replied the magician.
"Well, mind and be sure to do it."
"Yes, I'll be sure to do it, your majesty."
* * * * *
The next day, at ten, the magician appeared before the king, who asked:
"Have you considered well?"
"Yes, your majesty."
"Well, how are you going to act?"
"Your majesty, I've thought and thought during the night, and the best thing we can do is to turn all the birds into fairies."
"What are fairies?" asked the king.
"I've planned it all out, and I hope your majesty will agree."
"Oh! I'll agree, as long as they never molest us more."
"Well, your majesty, I'm going to turn them to fairies—small living creatures to live in caves in the bowels of the earth, and they shall only visit people living on the earth once a year. They shall be harmless, and hurt nothing; they shall be fairies, and do nothing but dance and sing, and I shall allow them to go about on earth for twenty-four hours once a year and play their antics, but they shall do no mischief."
"How long are the birds to remain in that state?" asked the king.
"I'll give them 2,000 years, your majesty; and at the end of that time they are to go back into birds, as they were before. And after the birds change from the fairy state back into birds, they shall never breed more, but die a natural death."
So the tribes lost their birds, and the King of Persia made such fearful havoc amongst them that they decided to leave the country.
They travelled, supporting themselves by robbery; until they came to a place where they built a city, and called it Troy, where they were besieged for a long time.
At length the besiegers built a large caravan, with a large man's head in front; the head was all gilded with gold. When the caravan was finished they put 150 of the best warriors inside, provided with food, and one of them had a trumpet. Then they pulled the caravan, which ran upon eight broad wheels, up to the gates of the city, and left it there, their army being drawn up in a valley near by. It was, agreed that when the caravan got inside the gates the bugler should blow three loud blasts to warn, the army, who would immediately advance into the city.
The men on the ramparts saw this curious caravan, and they began wondering what it was, and for two or three days they left it alone.
At last an old chieftain said, "It must be their food."
On the third day they opened the gates, and attaching ropes, began to haul it into the city; then the warriors leaped out, and the horn blew, and the army hurried up, and the town was taken after great slaughter; but a number escaped with their wives and children, and fled on to the Crimea, whence they were driven by the Russians, so they marched away along the sea to Spain, and bearing up through France, they stopped. Some wanted to go across the sea, and some stayed in the heart of France: they were the Bretoons. [Footnote: Bretons.] The others came on over in boats, and landed in England, and they were the first people settled in Great Britain: they were the Welsh.
Notes: This book holds 24 Welsh folktales. The last six are not from welsh sources.
Editor: P. H. Emerson
Publisher: D. Nutt, London