Cross posted to Omir the Storyteller and Daily Kos

Good morning! Good morning! Welcome once again to Sunday Griot! I’m glad to see you! How have you been? A happy Mother’s Day to all! Please, have a cookie and some coffee or some milk. Then come, sit and listen, and I will bring you a story that ultimately comes from India. It is the story of The Golden Hart King.

Once upon a time a herd of deer lived in a forest in the realm of a human king. These deer had beautiful blonde coats, almost the color of gold. Their coats were prized by hunters, who would come from great distances to hunt the golden deer.

At length the numbers of the golden deer dwindled, until they became what today we would call an endangered species. So it was that the human king declared that thenceforth no one was to hunt the golden deer except by his royal assent. Many hunters came and asked him for permission to hunt the deer, but they were all turned away, and over time the herd grew.

Now as kings do the human king died and was succeeded by his son, and him in turn by his son, and on for many years, and all of these kings protected the golden deer, and their numbers increased. But eventually a human king rose up who had a passion for hunting. He saw the great herd of golden deer and decided he would hunt them. And hunt them he did! Sometimes he would slay three, four, five deer in a single day.

The deer were alarmed that this human king might all by himself bring the herd back to the size it was when the first king took them under his protection, so one night they held a council. The deer shared many ideas about what to do. Finally the king of the deer spoke to his subjects. “It is clear that the human king means to hunt us,” said the hart king, “so the best we can do is to limit our losses. Here is what we shall do. Every morning we shall have a lottery. The deer who draws the lot will present himself to the human king, and lead him on a chase away from the bulk of the herd. With any luck at all he will be able to slay no more than one of us every day, and in that way we can protect the other members of the herd.”

The deer all agreed to this, and so it was the next morning, they drew lots and one deer was chosen. He went out of the forest, made sure the human king could see him, and then led the human king on a wild chase through the forest. At the end of the day the king had hunted his deer, but he had had to work for it!

This continued for some time. Every day the human king would hunt a deer chosen by lot. He never was able to kill more than one deer in a day, and sometimes the deer would lead the human king on an all-day chase and live to tell the tale.

Then one day the lot fell to a pregnant hind. This threw the deer into a quandry.

“What shall we do?” they asked. “We never anticipated this.” “We cannot send her out to die with her calf.”

“Please,” she told them. “It is my duty. I am almost due. I shall deliver my calf and then go out to do what I must do.”

No.” The voice was as familiar as it was firm. It was the deer king. “This cannot be done. The calf will need its mother or both will die.” He paused for a moment, then said, “I will go in your place.”

The deer were astonished and begged him not to go. “You are our king,” they told him. “How will we survive without you?” Several others offered to go in place of the hind. But he would not change his mind. He turned to one of his sons. “You shall reign in my stead. Be a good king and do as you have seen me do.” And with that the hart king left the forest.

The human king had just finished his breakfast and was checking the fletching on his arrows when he saw a great golden deer silhouetted against the morning sky. This was the moment he lived for! He slowly grabbed an arrow, fitted it to his bowstring . . . and then stopped as he realized who he was facing.

The human king lowered his bow. He called out, “You are the king of the golden deer, are you not?”

“I am,” the hart king called back.

The human king was puzzled. “How is it that I am to hunt a fellow monarch?”

“I am here in the place of a hind who is ready to calve,” he replied. “You will hunt me in her stead, for I am not prepared to have my subjects do anything that I am not prepared to do myself.”

When he heard this, the human king lowered his bow and finally dropped it to the ground. “I can see that you are a very wise king,” the human king said, “for you put the welfare of your subjects ahead of your own. Such a king is better suited to lead his people than to be sport for a man. Let the word go forth from today that so long as we both live, no man, myself included, will hunt the golden deer.”

And so it was that the golden deer lived in peace from that time until the end of the human king’s life, and the human king lived a very, very long time.

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