In autumn, as the days grew shorter, the nights colder and the lakes' waters wilder, an old drake and his mate, a pair of mallards, gathered their family. They stood on the shores of a lake in the far north and looked up at the gathering dusk.
"In the morning we will leave for the south," the old drake said. "It is time to take you to warmer lands, to places you have never seen. We will travel altogether. Be ready by dawn."
The ducklings chattered among themselves. The icicles and dusting of snow on the land chilled them to the bone, and they were glad to be headed toward warmer climes. So the next morning their mother woke them and led them into the sky, on the first leg of their long journey.
One by one they followed her, sailing into the bright blue sky, forming a V with mother leading and the old drake bringing up the rear. He watched out for the smallest ones, who sometimes fell behind.
"Come on, you stragglers," he called, flapping his wings hard to move them forward."
The old drake was a well-known braggart, and as they flew, he called to his children, "Watch your mother, but listen to me, I know so much. I've lived long and well."
The mother rolled her eyes. She was accustomed to her husband's boasting, but sometimes she turned and cast a warning eye on him and said, "Save all that breath for our flight."
They flew all day long, high above great pine forests and wide fields of wheat. They flew over rivers and valleys thick with frost. They flew until the sun was so low in the sky that they couldn't see well, but down below they saw a gleaming chain of lakes, and they headed that way.
The mother led the family in a half circle, dropping lower and lower, careful to watch for enemies. Human beings were sometimes dangerous, and her greatest wish was to keep the children safe.
At last they landed, one after another, on the smooth surface of a lake. But just as the last duckling touched down, the mother heard a whoosh and whizz cut the air, and she honked, "Careful, careful!" as she watched a huge falcon sweeping toward them with one wing lifted high.
The ducklings scattered fast, for they were small and nimble. But the old drake was struck as he touched down. For a moment the ducklings stared in fright as the air filled with what looked like snow, but they knew was feathers.
The force sent the drake swirling, but a moment later he was flying again, strong and proud. He honked with delight at his success as he watched the falcon dropping to the water below.
The falcon landed, but he knew at once his wing was broken, and he could no longer fly. He found a hollow log where he could hide from foxes and hunt mice for food. He understood he must survive the whole winter in this place.
Meanwhile, after the mallards' rest, they flew south the next morning.
Winter came and went, and the falcon did survive.
As the light returned to the land and brought warmth, the falcon began to test his broken wing. It was weak, but he could fly a little. He began to practice, and as the sun grew higher, he began to notice geese and ducks returning home. He was careful not to challenge them -- he was far too weak for that.
One day a flock of mallards landed very near his tree, and as they rested, he listened closely, and he heard the old drake bragging about this spot. "Here is where the falcon charged me, but I was faster and stronger, and I sent my enemy to the ground because I am so brave! I'm certain he is long dead now. No one can survive the winter without the use of his wings."
The sound of the drake's boasting ignited the falcon's fury, and he dashed out of his hiding spot and charged at the drake. The ducklings scattered, honking and crying and whirling up into the air.
But the falcon wasn't interested in the ducklings.
He chased the old drake around in dizzying circles until at last he managed to reach out and snap the mallard's neck with a powerful blow.
The ducklings cried out to their father, but the falcon called to them, "Be careful, ducklings! Learn the lesson your old father learned too late: Do not let your pride rule your words."
"Tell Me a Story 3: Women of Wonder," the third CD in the audiobook series, is now available. For more information, please visit www.mythsandtales.com.