Once upon a time, in India, there lived a wildly beautiful bird known as the Huma Bird. She lived her entire life in the sky, high above the Earth. Few had ever seen her, though tales of her strength, her beauty and her generous gifts spread far and wide. Those who had seen her claimed special powers and new understanding, though no one, it seems, had ever seen her land on Earth.
People told tales, too, of Huma Bird's children. They said she lay her eggs in the sky, and when the time came for her children to emerge from those eggs, she dropped them. They tumbled swiftly toward Earth, while inside the chicks pecked away at the shell, working against time to free themselves. Always, just before the fragile eggs dropped to the ground to shatter, the babies' beaks grew hard enough to crack open the shells; their wings grew strong enough to carry them back into the sky. There they joined their mother, learning her secrets and living in the land of Koh-I-Quaf.
One day a poor peasant, at the end of a long day's labor, lay down beside a tree to rest. He was exhausted from chopping wood in the forest, and so he decided to rest before walking the long way home. Soon he fell fast asleep.
As he slept, a young Huma Bird happened to fly past. When she saw the poor man, her heart swelled with pity. The Huma Bird always felt compassion for those who struggled hardest. She decided she must somehow help this fellow. Hovering above him, she thought up a plan. She would drop a golden egg beside him. This he could sell for enough money to escape his terrible poverty.
And so she swooped close and gently placed a shimmering golden egg beside the sleeping man. Then she quickly flew away.
When the peasant woke and saw the gift beside him, he couldn't believe his eyes. He picked it up carefully and hurried into the village. Surely the shopkeepers would give him money for such a marvelous prize as this golden egg.
When he reached the first shop, he drew the egg from beneath his tattered clothing. "How much will you give me for this?" he asked the (BEGIN ITAL)woni,(END ITAL) the shopkeeper.
Now the (BEGIN ITAL)woni(END ITAL) knew exactly what this treasure was, for he had long heard the stories of the gifts of the great Huma Bird. "Where did you find this?" he asked the peasant craftily.
"In the forest," the peasant answered, still not understanding what a great treasure this single egg could bring to him.
"I shall give you two rupees for this, but can you bring me another tomorrow?" the (BEGIN ITAL)woni(END ITAL) asked.
"I don't know," the peasant answered, "but I can try."
"And bring me the bird who laid this egg," the shopkeeper added. "If you do this, I shall richly reward you and your family."
Eager to please the (BEGIN ITAL)woni(END ITAL) who had just given him enough money to buy his family a bountiful supper, the peasant quickly agreed he would try, for he did not realize how badly the (BEGIN ITAL)woni(END ITAL) had cheated him.
The next day the peasant returned to the spot where he had found the egg. Once again he lay down beside the tree. This time he only pretended to sleep.
When the Huma Bird saw the poor man still dressed in tattered clothes, she decided she would try again to help. Once more she placed a golden egg at his side, then flapped her wings to rise into the sky.
But at that moment, the peasant jumped up and clasped her legs.
"Let go," the Huma Bird cried. "If you set me free, you'll never need to work another day."
"Who are you?" the peasant asked.
"I am the Huma Bird," she answered, "and I must fly free."
"Ha," said the peasant, "there is no such creature as a Huma Bird. They are imaginary creatures."
"It is true, I am a Huma Bird, and to prove it I shall give you a gift. Pluck one of my feathers, and cast it into the fire. When you do, you will be transported to my land. My mother will give you a great reward, and you shall live happily ever after."
"Transported to your land?" the peasant laughed. "And where would this land of yours be? Where is your mother?"
"She is in a place called Koh-I-Quaf," answered the Huma Bird.
Now this was a place the peasant had heard of, but he believed these were mountains that circled the whole Earth, mountains made of emerald that cast upon the sky its blue hue. In these mountains, he had heard, lived the demons. And so, when he looked again at the creature, he saw only the eyes of a demon. "I will not set you free!" he said to her. "You are a demon then!" And he fastened the bird by her legs to the strongest branch of the tree.
Then he ran into the village to fetch the (BEGIN ITAL)woni.(END ITAL)
When he and the shopkeeper returned to the tree, the bird lay on the ground, dead from her wild struggle to free herself. The golden egg was gone.
"What's this?" the (BEGIN ITAL)woni(END ITAL) said to the peasant. "You wish to sell me a dead bird? Begone, old man. Never bother me again."
The Huma Bird never did reappear to the peasant, and so he lived forever a poor, struggling man. Still, he understood that by not offering his trust to the creature, he had lost his fortune.
And so, afterward, the peasant counseled his children to trust in stories, to keep watch for the glorious Huma Bird, and to believe in miracles.
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