“Dedicted to Nairi”
There once was a calm and beautiful forest in a land far away. Many peaceful people lived there, along with many animals. The land had many different trees, but also grassy meadows with flowers and bushes.
Most of the people lived in the village in the middle of the forest. The people were happy so they liked staying in their forest, which was plenty big enough for them and the animals who lived there. They stayed in their land, because at the north were high mountains no one had ever climbed to the top of before, to the east and south was a large lake that they could not see to the other side of, and to the west was a rushing rocky river through a wide canyon.
One of the people who lived in the village was a young woman they called Nairi. She was strong, graceful and pleasant and helped the animals when it was very rainy and they got cold. She was nice to every villager, and this helped other people be nice, too. Everyone liked her.
One day the children playing in the little field in the center of the village saw shadows run across the grass. They looked up and way high in the sky strange birds were flying. Dozens of pointy-beaked, sharp-clawed big hawks flew across their beautiful blue sky. The children looked, because they had never seen such birds before. They were used to robins, sparrows and chickadees.
Just then, one of the hawks swooped down. There was a screeching sound that could have been the air rushing past his wings or his high-pitched voice. As he almost touched the ground, he grabbed a sweet black and white bunny rabbit and drove with his powerful wings to push himself back up into the air. The frightened rabbit looked back at her friends and the children, hoping for someone to help.
Nairi was watching from the little street that went by the field. She picked up a rock and threw it quickly. It hit the leg of the hawk just above its claw. The hawk, shocked, dropped the rabbit. The rabbit floated down to the grassy green and scurried away to its hole.
The hawk turned to look at Nairi and squawked to its friends. By then, the people in the village had heard the commotion and had come out from their shops and houses to see what was going on. The hawks turned back and flew to the center of the village. They landed and looked at one another for a moment.
Then the strangest thing the nice people had ever seen happened. The hawks began to grow taller and wider, but their beaks and claws started shrinking back. Their bodies straightened, and seconds later dozens of sharp-eyed tall people looked back into the wide eyes of the surprised villagers.
The tallest hawk-person spoke. “We have come from a land far away. We are hungry and want to eat. Instead of welcoming us as you should have, you have thrown stones and kept us from our meals. We and our friends and their friends will be back tomorrow for a feast of the animals in your forest. Do not try to stop us again, or you will be sorry.” With that, they rustled their arms and in an instant were hawks again flying up and away.
The nice villagers looked at each other. Their faces were worried, because they loved their animal friends and didn’t want the hawk-people to eat them. What could they do?
Nairi knew that the other villagers were scared and sad. Her calm and pleasant voice spoke to them. “Do not worry, my friends. We will not let the hawks eat the animals. Even if we have to be sorry, we will not let our friends down.”
The night passed, and dawn came. Soon, hundreds of hawks filled the morning sky with their flapping wings and screeching talk. They looked over the land. No people could be seen. Good, the hawks thought, the villagers are scared of our powerful magic.
Then, in a field past the village, they saw fluffy white and black and brown bunnies. They saw guinea pigs and hamsters. They saw mice and frogs. It would be a feast!
The hawks swooped down toward the field and pointed their sharp claws at the poor little animals that would soon be breakfast. Still, no people could be seen.
Hawk after hawk grabbed a tasty treat with its feet and drove hard with its powerful wings against the air to rise up. Hawk after hawk stopped in mid-air, beating its wings but not flying up.
The leader of the hawks opened his claws to drop the fluffy brown bunny in his grasp. The rabbit was stuck to his feet, and he could not shake it free. Soon, all the hawks were shaking their feet, but the cute animals stayed stuck to them.
The hawks looked down. These were not animals at all! They were stuffed cloth made to look like animals, and they were covered with fast-drying glue. And worse, they were tied to hooks in the ground with thick ropes. The hawks squawked and thrust their wings, but they could not fly away.
Just then, villagers began stepping from behind trees and bushes and tall grass. They stood around the circle of squawking hawks. The hawks began changing into hawk-people as they had the day before. But their bare feet were still glued to the small animal shapes that had fooled them. And, without wings, they fell to the ground with loud plunks.
Nairi led the villagers forward. “Hawk-people,” she said in a strong and loud voice her friends had never heard before, “you should not have come back. You think that you have the right to eat innocent animals, but we will not let you. You should have stayed in your own land and left us to live peacefully in ours. Now we have trapped you. What do you have to say for yourselves?”
The leader of the hawk-people sat up on the ground. “You are right, gentle Princess. We should have stayed in our own land and left your innocent friends here with you. We are sorry that we came back and tried to hurt them. We were wrong to think that we have a right to eat other animals just because we are bigger and stronger. Please forgive us for what we have done.”
The kind villagers had come to believe that all people are good deep inside. Perhaps the hawk-people were, too. The nice people had taught them a lesson, and the hawk-people had learned it. Nairi spoke again, this time in her calm and peaceful voice. “Hawk-people, if you have learned your lesson and promise never to return here again, we will let you go from the trap we have caught you in.”
The hawk-people’s leader looked down at the ground with a sorrowful expression. “Oh, yes, gentle Princess, we have learned. We have learned. You have taught us so much today, and we thank you for it. Let us go, and we will never bother you or your animal friends again.”
And the kind villagers, with joy that the hawk-people had learned such a good lesson so well, walked to them and poured special water on their feet. At once, the glue melted away, and they were free.
They turned into hawks once again, and flew off into the sky.
The nice people walked back to their village. Inside their houses were all their animal friends, kept safe from the hawks. They had seen from the windows what had happened and cheered the people led by Nairi when they returned. “Friend animals, the hawk-people are gone and never will return. You can go back to your homes and live in peace.” And the animals bounced in joy to their forest homes.
The next morning, dozens of hawks appeared in the sky. The villagers ran out from their shops and houses in great uncertainty. The hawks had returned again to eat the animals! They had not learned their lesson!
The hawk leader and the other hawks landed in the village square. They turned quickly into people. “Kind villagers, we know you told us never to return. We are sorry to break our word, but we are so grateful to you that we have brought you a gift of these wonderful flowers to plant by your village streets. Every morning you can look at them from your windows and remember the kindness you showed us. Thank you.”
And the hawk-people handed the villagers dozens of flower pots with brightly colored flowers more beautiful than rainbows. The villagers smiled with joy and thanked the hawk-people, who turned into hawks and flew away with happy squawks.
The villagers planted the flowers around the village and admired the beautiful flowers in their many colors. All the people and all the animals went to sleep so happy that night.
Nairi was the first to wake the next day and went to her window to look out at the beautiful flowers. But there was still darkness when she looked through the window. She opened it, but the darkness remained. She pressed her hand out and realized that iron-strong dark green vines ran back and forth in front of the window. She went to other windows, and each one was shut by the same vines. Her door would not open, and through its tiny window she saw more green vines.
A voice squawked across the village. The leader of the hawk-people shouted, “You dared to defy us, dared to trap us, and now you will pay the price. You are now our prisoners. We are stronger than you are, and now you will do what we say. Tomorrow morning all of the hawk-people in our faraway land will come to yours to eat your animals and enslave you.”
And then silence. He must have flown off.
Nairi walked to the top of her house, where there was a little window, and opened it. The vines were there, too, but also a small red and blue and purple flower. The flower looked at her sadly and sighed. Nairi asked, “Beautiful flower whose colors make the sunset envious, why have you grown this way to entrap us and make us slaves?”
“Oh, dear Princess, I am just a simple flower. My friends and I were growing by a grassy meadow where cows and sheep came to graze during lazy summer afternoons. Then these mean hawk-people came and tore us out of our ground and put us in pots. They cast a magic spell over us and brought us here. The magic spell made our stems grow into long vines that wrapped around your houses while you slept. They turned our beauty into meanness. We are so sorry, but we cannot change the magic.”
Nairi thought for a moment. Then she walked down to the room in which she kept all of her family’s books. There were books with poems and stories, books about people who had lived long ago, books about cooking and building things, even arithmetic and geometry books for older children. There were also books about flowers, lots of books about flowers. She took one very old book, with a scratched and worn cover, down from the shelf. She looked through it and found what she wanted.
In her kitchen, the Princess worked for many hours. She measured liquids that looked like water colored green and pink and yellow and purple, and powders that looked like blue and brown and orange and red sand. She mixed different things together. Sometimes the mixtures bubbled. Then she mixed different mixtures together. At last she was done.
She walked to the little window with the little flower. She carried a big glass jug with a rainbow-colored liquid inside. “Gentle flower, please let me put one little drop of this potion on your petals, and the magic of the hawk-people will leave you. You will go back to being a tiny little flower.”
“Oh, thank you, sweet and kind Princess.” And the Princess poured one little drop on a tiny petal. For a moment, nothing happened, and the Princess became worried. Did she make a mistake? Was the hawk-people’s magic too powerful?
And then her house became brighter, as the snaking vines shrank and retreated down to the ground. Soon, the tiny flower was back the way it was before the hawk-people’s magic.
Nairi quickly ran to each of the other houses in the village and put a drop of her potion on the vines that held it prisoner. Soon, all the flowers were back to normal and all the people were free.
They asked Nairi what they could do then. The hawk-people had powerful magic, and they would surely be angry that the villagers had stopped them a second time. Maybe this time they will come back and hurl giant rocks at us from the sky. Maybe they will chase all our animal friends away, or cover up the sun so the trees and grass and bushes and flowers all die.
Nairi knew that the kind villagers were scared and sad again. She talked to them as she had before. “Kind villagers, do not worry. I have a plan to take care of the hawk people once and for all. But we must work hard and quickly, because they will come tomorrow at dawn.”
The next morning, the bright sun shone across the forest until 1,000 screaming hawks blotted out the morning sun. A shadow fell across the land. Still, no animals or people stirred.
The hawks landed and became people again. They looked at the houses in the village, covered from top to bottom with dark green vines wrapping around and around. Small groups of hawk-people walked to each house and stood in front of it. They folded their arms and looked tall and mean.
The leader spoke, “Villagers, we have returned. Before we eat your animals, we will make a list of all of you. You must open your front door and say through the vines who lives in your house. The hawk-people before you will write down your names. And then you will be our slaves.”
The leader waited. The hawk-people in front of each house in the village waited. No one spoke from the houses. The leader spoke again, angrily, “Villagers, if you do not cooperate, then we will be even meaner to you. I command you to speak now.”
Still there was silence. Then, they heard a single, strong word, “Now!” Before the leader realized that it was Nairi speaking from behind him, the vines around the houses snapped up into the air and fell onto all of the hawk-people. They were not vines, but strong ropes painted green and tied into nets! The villagers came out from behind bushes and trees and tall grass and pulled the nets shut. They had captured all of the hawk-people.
“Hawk-people,” Nairi said in her strong and loud voice, “we were nice to you and tried to forgive you. You tricked us by pretending to be sorry for what you did. Then you tried to hurt us and our animal friends again.”
“Oh, we are so sorry,” said the hawk leader. “This time we have truly learned our lesson. If you let us go, we will never bother you again.” The hawk people thought other people were weak and foolish. They had learned that nice people always forgave others when the others asked for forgiveness. And, nice people always gave others another chance.
The hawk leader and other hawk-people thought the villagers would be foolish once again and let them go. But, the villagers said nothing. They gathered up the nets and dragged them with the hawk-people inside across the village and to a wide dirt trail into the forest. Most of the larger villagers helped. They all had backpacks with sleeping bags and water for a journey.
The hawk-people squawked in anger. They squawked in fear. They said terrible things to the villagers, and then they said again and again that they were sorry. The villagers said nothing, as Nairi led them forward. They walked for the rest of the day across the forest, to the north, where the mighty mountains stretched as far to the east and west as the eye could see.
That night, the villagers put tents up and slept inside. They gave the hawk-people blankets and food, but it was vegetables and fruit and the hawk-people spit it out. The villagers said nothing.
The next morning, the villagers rose with the sun and began dragging the sleeping hawk-people up the mountain in front of them. They climbed for many days and rested many nights. They climbed in the snow, above where any trees or plants could grow. They climbed over steep rocks. The villagers could not fly, but they could climb higher than any hawk could fly. Slowly, the hawk-people realized that the villagers were stronger than they were, but with a different kind of strength. They didn’t hurt people, but could climb up mountains.
Finally, they reached the top of the mountain. On the other side, sheer cliffs fell thousands of feet down. On the rocky valley floor far below, there were rivers and fields. Every villager and every hawk-person was quiet.
Nairi spoke, “Hawk-people, you said again and again that you have learned your lesson. I am glad that you have learned your lesson. We have also learned our lesson. You say you are sorry just to trick us into thinking that you really are sorry and won’t try to hurt us again. You say you are sorry so you can get away with what you have done. But you are not really sorry. If you have really learned your lesson, then you should be happy we have caught you in these nets and taken you far from our land.”
The villagers looked around at the hawk-people, who lowered their eyes. Nairi continued, “Look at this valley. On all sides are tall, rocky mountain cliffs, too high for you to fly over, too steep for you to climb. It will be your new home. There is plenty of water in the rivers and ponds, plenty of leaves and fruits and vegetables and worms and bugs for you to eat. The weather is warm, and no animals will bother you here, except for the snakes. Always be on the lookout for the snakes. But there are no fluffy animals for you to hurt here, and here is where you must stay.”
Then the villagers tied long ropes to the nets with the hawk-people in them and wrapped ropes around giant rocks nearby. They were going to lower the hawk-people, nets and all, down the mountain cliffs. “Here are four small knives. When you reach the bottom, you will be able to cut through the nets in a few hours, so that you can go out and find food and build your homes.”
The hawk leader looked with anger in his eyes, “We will fly over these mountains, you will see. You have not seen the last of us. One day you will be sorry for what you have done.”
Nairi looked with sadness on the hawk leader and all the hawk-people. She was sad for them, because they could not learn their lesson. And, she was sad for her own people, because the hawk leader might be right. “That may be, that may be. But if we did not capture you, you would surely have hurt us. Either way, perhaps you will hurt us. You might escape and try again. And if it is not you, perhaps there are other bad people out there in the world who will come to our land one day. There are always bad people in the world, but now we will always be ready. We might not win the next time, but we will never give up.”
And with that the villagers lowered the hawk-people down the cliffs. When they saw them reach the bottom, they cut the ropes and let them fall, thousands of feet down, never to be used to climb up again.
Many years later, when Nairi was an old woman, she thought back to the hawk-people. She wondered if they had ever learned their lesson.