The Adarna Bird

(Ibong Adarna is a popular fairy tale from the Philippines. This version is a translation and adaptation of a comic book written by M. Franco and illustrated by Dionisio J. Roque.)

Long ago, in the far away country of Terra Granada, there was a kingdom known as Berbania. Here, there was peace and enjoyment, and the people did not know trouble. The peaceful lifestyle in Berbania was due to the good service by the gentle King Fernando and the good Queen Valeriana.

They had three handsome sons, one of whom would eventually receive the scepter and crown and become ruler of Berbania.

Don Pedro was the eldest of the three, and he assured everyone that he would be the heir. Strong and sharp, he was quick to fight and always ready with his sword.

Following the eldest was Don Diego, sharp-eyed and fierce in the game of love. Women quickly found out he was also always ready with his sword.

And the youngest was Don Juan. Though a bit shy and very humble, people found him charming—charming and thrilling, especially in the hearts of women throughout the kingdom.

Who among the three was worthy to inherit the throne? That was the thought that disturbed old King Fernando. Because of that excessive worrying, and perhaps because of his old age, he came down with an unknown illness and drew very near to death.

Every night, Queen Valeriana sat at his bedside. “I’ll call all the expert physicians of the kingdom, my dear king, so don’t you worry,” she said.

King Fernando kissed her hand, unable to do much else. “I continue to feel weaker…I’m afraid that no physician will be able to cure my illness.”

“Don’t despair yet,” said the Queen. “These physicians are recognized by their expertise. And anyway, I’ve already called them.”

But when the physicians arrived, they were just as puzzled as everyone else, and the Queen grew concerned. No expert doctor in the kingdom could find out what was causing the King’s illness.

News of King Fernando’s sickness overwhelmed the whole kingdom. The youngest prince, Don Juan, was overcome with worry, but Don Pedro and Don Diego seemed unaffected.

“This is not a day of disaster,” Pedro said during dinner that night. “It’s a jolly day of celebration. If our father’s illness is that severe, he’ll be forced to finally decide which of us will be his heir.” He bit into a drumstick. “And I’m sure it has to be me.”

“Whoever becomes heir, that’s great for him,” said Diego. “But for me, I’d rather be here with these beautiful daughters of Eve.” As usual, he had one serving girl on his lap and another at his side. “They are the only splendors of the kingdom that radiate fragrance and true beauty. I wouldn’t sell them for a hundred scepters and crowns.” The women giggled and nestled closer to him.

Pedro rolled his eyes.

Diego laughed at him. “You can go ahead and become shepherd of the whole flock. As for me, I’m happy to claim these charming lambs.”

“As soon as I’m king, you are free to indulge in whatever devious pursuits you have in mind.”

At the other end of the banquet table, Juan rested his head in his hand. He couldn’t eat. They don’t care about anything but power and pleasure, he thought. They don’t even care if Father lives or dies. Oh please, God, let me know more about our father’s illness.

Don Juan’s feelings were shared by the Queen, who pleaded in her own prayers for her husband’s health to return.

That night, while in the midst of a terrible fever, the King had a whirlwind of a dream. In the dream, a beautiful fairy descended like a messenger from heaven. “King Fernando, listen,” she said. “My news is important. I will tell you the remedy to your illness, an illness that came upon you because you still have not decided who will be your heir. The future of the kingdom of Berbania depends on your decision, therefore, this illness was given to you to hasten your choice. The son who is able to heal you is the one worthy of wielding your scepter and crown.”

She pointed her wand at the sleeping king, and he saw a mountain landscape. “In the enchanted forest of Mount Tabor lives the Adarna bird. Send one of your sons to catch it, and when he returns, make your choice. Once the bird is here and you hear its singing, you will be healed. That is my news for you. Goodbye, King Fernando.”

With that, the fairy disappeared.

The Queen, alarmed by the fevered king’s moaning, hurried to his side and shook him by the shoulders. “Fernando, my dear king, what is happening to you? Why are you moaning in your sleep?”

He awoke with a start. “Valeriana, my Queen. Thank you for waking me. I was visited by a mysterious dream!”

“A dream?”

“Yes. A dream full of hope! In Mount Tabor, there is a cure for my illness—the Adarna bird. One of our children needs to catch it.”

The king gave her a summary of his dream. At last, she had some hope that he could recover. “Let me send our three children that news,” she said.

And so the princes learned of the dream. Together in the courtyard, they discussed what to do. “I will go to Mount Tabor,” Pedro said, sheathing his sword. “I have to prove that I’m worthy to be the king’s heir.”

“The road to Mount Tabor is dangerous,” Juan warned him from a bench.

“Bring on any danger, as long as the scepter and crown are mine.”

“What if you don’t catch the Adarna bird?” Diego asked.

“And why wouldn’t I catch it?” Pedro shot back. “I would do anything to show I’m the rightful heir.” He glared at his brother, who was watching the serving girls bathing on the other side of the hedge. “But I suppose in the very slight chance that I don’t make it back…then you’d have to go.”

And so, Don Pedro prepared to leave in order to prove he was the true heir to the scepter and crown. In the palace, he donned a suit of chainmail armor, sword at his side, while servants attended to him.

Juan and Diego sat at the window. “You can only take the bird after a fierce battle,” Diego laughed. “If I were you, I’d bring some corn and rice.”

“You may have forgotten I’ll pass a dense forest and rushing river before I get to the steep Mountain of Tabor,” Pedro said.

Queen Valeriana entered from behind him. “That is true,” she said. “The journey to the magical mountain is full of danger. And when you get there, you still can’t be sure of your safety. So it’s good that you’re ready for anything to happen. I’m preparing the best and most beautiful horse for your journey, and I myself have prepared your goodies.”

She clapped her hands. Pedro’s serving girl brought a parcel forward. “I’ll give you wine, bread, and meat that should last you your whole journey,” the Queen finished. Then she brought him to his father’s chamber before he left.

“Come to me, Pedro,” the King said weakly. “I want to talk to you before you begin your search for the Adarna bird.” Pedro knelt by his bedside to listen. “I know you’ve been talking about the dangers of this journey…but I’m confident in your abilities. As my firstborn, I have chosen you to go to Mount Tabor and capture the bird that will cure me.” He reached out to touch Pedro’s arm. “Now you can prove that you are fully qualified to be my heir.”

Pedro stood. “Have hope, my father…I’m going to bring that Adarna bird here, and you will recover. I’ll prove that I am really worthy of the scepter and crown.”

At last, atop the finest horse in the kingdom, Don Pedro set out, waving goodbye to the throngs of citizens and to his servant up in her balcony. The people were overjoyed at his departure, hoping the prince would succeed in finding the cure for their beloved king.

Once Pedro had gone, Diego appeared behind the servant. “Now that Don Pedro is gone, I expect that you will still be dedicated to your service. And your service starts now, this very moment.” Smiling, they kissed.

It took several days for Don Pedro to cross the jungle. He rested only to eat and sleep, with only his destination in mind. When he reached the raging river, it took a lot more effort to cross. But his horse forded it at last, and on the other side Mount Tabor awaited him.

I need to keep going, straight until sunset, he thought, staring up the steep incline.

And so, Don Pedro started the dangerous climb up Mount Tabor. He was gasping when he finally reached the top. “Darkness is near,” he panted to himself. “I better eat first before I look for the Adarna bird.”

He took out the last of his provisions and sat down on a rock to eat. Out of nowhere, an old woman dressed in rags hobbled into the clearing, leaning against a walking stick. “Boy…can I share some of your food?” she begged. “I have not eaten in many days.”

She drew nearer. Pedro stood abruptly. “What do I care if you eat or not? I didn’t face a great deal of misery to get here just to feed you.” He shoved the woman aside and took his food with him. “Get on your way! It’s late, and I have a great way to go.”

Without looking back, Don Pedro entered the woods of Mount Tabor. Where is the Adarna bird nesting? he wondered.

Darkness gradually spread. At last, Pedro saw a strange tree. “A barren tree with silver leaves avoided by all the other birds?” he mused aloud. “This is probably the chief nest of the Adarna bird.” He walked up to the tree to examine it. This is definitely the tree I was looking for, he thought. Only an enchanted bird like the Adarna bird can nest in it.

He sat down and leaned agains the trunk. I’ll wait here. As soon as the Adarna bird comes and falls asleep, it’ll have no escape from me.

But the night deepened, and the prince grew so bored waiting that he became very drowsy. By midnight, Don Pedro was asleep and could not hear the wings of the Adarna bird as it flew to its principal shelter. It perched on the branch right above him and stared at the prince below. When the bird realized that the prince was sleeping, it began to sing a song full of tenderness.

The song woke Don Pedro. He felt humiliated when he heard the bird above him, but he was only able to briefly open his eyes. The Adarna bird sang seven times, and the tenderness of the song finally put Don Pedro back to sleep.

After the seventh song, the bird was ready to go to bed, but first it pooped, right over Don Pedro. The magic bird droppings landed right on the sleeping prince’s head, and he became a rock. Satisfied and fully secure now, the Adarna bird fell asleep.

Many, many days passed, and at the palace, people began to notice Don Pedro’s absence.

One day, a serving girl came to Don Diego’s chamber door to deliver news. He was already lounging in bed with two other servants. “Please excuse the prince,” she told them, then addressed him. “You were summoned by your father.”

Diego caressed one girl’s cheek. “The dear king calls me, and I have to obey immediately.” The girls were disappointed. At the door, he paused and told them, “Don’t go away. I’ll come back.”

In the royal chamber, he found the King and Queen waiting for him. “Dear mother, dear father. You sent for me?”

“Yes, Diego,” Queen Valeriana said gravely. “I want you to talk to your dad. Approach him.”

“Come here, listen to what I say,” said King Fernando. Diego approached and knelt by his bed. “Many days have passed, and I am afraid that your brother Pedro did not succeed in his quest. The chance to become king is now in your hands, Diego. You must find the Adarna bird.”

Diego was shocked. “Me?”

“Yes. Now that you are the eldest, that duty is yours.”

The Queen placed a hand on her son’s shoulder. “It’s quite possible you’ll succeed where Pedro failed.”

Diego stared out at nothing. He never thought he’d have to take this quest.

The king noticed his hesitation. “That is, if you are not afraid, my son.”

Irritated, Diego leapt to his feet. “Fear? I have no fear. Now I’ll go get prepared to travel, and I promise you I will bring the Adarna bird when I return.”

Just like he said he would, Don Diego set out through the jungle, mounted on a horse and dressed in mail armor like his brother before him.

He was still in a bad mood. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my lovely muses,” he muttered to himself. “What could have happened to Pedro that he didn’t return?”

But his contemplation was cut short when a huge python lunged at him from a low-hanging branch. Both horse and rider were startled, but then Diego drew his sword. “Don Diego is not afraid of a freak like you! Taste my blade!” he cried, and sliced off its head. Secretly, though, he was terrified, and he galloped away thinking, I have to get out of this forest FAST.

It was not long before Diego found the raging river and immediately set out to cross it. But before he reached the shore, his horse stepped in a deep pit and lost its footing. The current knocked Diego off and swept the panicked creature away.

Now I lost the horse. I have to get out of here or I’ll drown, Diego realized. So he swam as hard as he could and forced himself to reach the shore.

Soaking wet, he crawled across the bank. “Ay, merciful God…I thought I wouldn’t make it.” He started a fire to dry up, cold and starving. Fortunately, he thought, the water didn’t damage all my food, or else I’d die of hunger. He took a bite of his meager meal. Was this why Pedro failed? he wondered.

Just then, the same old beggar who had appeared to Pedro crawled from the bushes toward Diego’s makeshift camp. “Boy…share what little food you have with me,” she pleaded. “I’m starving.”

Diego jumped up. She dragged herself toward him, supported only by her walking stick. “Just a little, something to relieve my hunger. I haven’t eaten in many days.”

“I’ll give you something you can’t get around,” he said, and ran out of the woman’s reach so she collapsed. “I need this food more than you do. I need to stay strong on my journey.” So he ate the rest himself, and, like Don Pedro, reached the foot of Mount Tabor.

This has to be Mount Tabor for its height and steepness, he thought, gazing up. Then some movement nearby caught his eye. Pedro’s horse, he realized. That means he came here and climbed up the mountain. He walked over to the horse and stroked its ears. Happily, now I have a horse available on my return. Then a serious thought hit him. So did Pedro perish there at the top?

He began to climb the mountain. I guess I’ll find that out once I reach the top.

At last, he reached the top, gasping for breath. Once he made it past the ledge he immediately saw the magical tree with the silver leaves, where birds would not roost or eat.

Amazing, he thought. The leaves are silver and the other birds avoid them. Perhaps that tree is the Adarna bird’s nest.

He stepped over to admire the tree, not noticing the lumpy prince-sized rock beneath it. There is no doubt this is the magical bird’s haunt. Soon it will be dark. Well, I’ll wait here, and as soon as the Adarna bird comes over, I’ll grab it.

Don Diego sat down and waited, but deep in the night he fell asleep leaning against the treetrunk.

At midnight, the Adarna bird appeared and headed toward the tree. Once it perched, it sang a song full of tenderness, seven times like before. Don Diego heard and strained to open his eyes, but he was not able to resist the lulling sweetness of its singing. And as was its habit, the Adarna bird pooped after the seventh song. The droppings hit Diego, and he became a rock. Then the Adarna bird slept peacefully on top of the tree.

Many more days passed and Don Diego did not return. And so, Don Juan entered his father’s chamber.

“I will go to Mount Tabor, my father king,” he said.

King Fernando was reluctant to send his youngest child. “You are the only one left, son. Something might happen to you. And I’m likely to die soon enough anyway.”

“I have to go there to get your cure,” Juan insisted. “And to rescue my brothers. I have a hunch they are alive, my dear father.”

“Then go ahead, Juan,” King Fernando said at last. “And you will have the blessing of God.”

Queen Valeriana embraced the young prince. “Be careful, son. My heart will never stop bleeding if something happens to you.”

“Don’t worry, my dear mother queen,” Juan said. “God is merciful. And now I must go.”

Don Juan didn’t waste any time. Dressed in mail armor like his brothers before him, he swiftly launched through the dark forest. He did not wander, and at the end of the fierce wilderness, he crossed the swollen river. Thankfully, he reached the other side without any disaster.

Juan dismounted from his horse, staring up the nearly vertical incline. The beautiful mountain of Tabor, he thought. Soon I’ll know what secrets you possess.

He looked around the foot of the mountain and could only see one of his brother’s horses. Diego’s horse is not here. That means he didn’t make it. Disheartened, Juan took out his provisions. Well, I’d better eat before I climb the mountain.

He found a spot in the woods to sit down. Juan would have started eating, but then he heard the most mournful groaning. Nearby, the old beggar woman lay weakly on the ground, struggling to stand with her walking stick. “Boy, have mercy, for God’s sake,” she cried. “I’m starving.”

“Poor, pitiful soul,” Juan mumbled, then walked over to give her his bread. “Take this. You need it more than me.”

The woman was surprised. “How kind of you, boy. Not like the two before you.”

Two?” Suddenly, the prince snapped to high alert. Pedro and Diego! Where are they, do you remember?”

“On top of Mount Tabor.” The old woman hugged the bread to her chest, but curiously did not start eating. “I know that you seek to climb the mountain too, in search of the Adarna bird. Listen to what I say, boy.”

She sat down on a small mound. Juan knelt before her, eager to hear. “Before you dare to capture the Adarna bird, you must first meet the hermit who lives in a cave atop Mount Tabor. Go, boy, so you make it to the top of the mountain before nightfall. Just remember what I told you. See the hermit first so you won’t come to harm like your brothers.”

Juan stood. “Thank you for your warning. Now I’m ready to climb the mountain.”

He began the difficult ascent of Mount Tabor. When he reached the top, he was amazed at the paradisiac view of the tree with silver leaves. He was truly impressed by all the natural beauty around him, but he did not approach the silver tree. Instead, he sought out the cave that the old beggar described. What a beautiful place, he thought, then noticed an opening in some rocks. Wow…perhaps this is the hermit’s cave.

Sure enough, when he reached the entrance, a man with a long beard and a tall staff emerged. “Come to my cave home, Don Juan,” said the hermit. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“Waiting for me?” Juan repeated. “How do you know my name?!”

“More knowledge comes to me than you could ever understand, even if I explained it to you.” He led the prince through rooms of stone to a humble table in a large cavern lit by torches. “Sit down, I know you are hungry.”

Juan stared at his surroundings. Magical, he thought. Then he noticed the food on the table. How did the bread that I gave to the beggar get here?!

The hermit poured him something to drink. “Alright, boy…you will feast. The sun is about to sink.” While Juan ate, the hermit kept speaking. “Because you demonstrated good will as soon as you came to this place, it is now my duty to help you catch the Adarna bird. The enchanted bird cannot be caught by chance alone. Her song has mysterious powers, and her droppings turn things to stone.”

He pointed upward. “The bird roosts in the tree of Hojas Platas, silver leaves, at the fall of midnight. And whoever waits for her is forced to sleep when she sings. She sings her song seven times, a song filled with all the tenderness in the world. And in every song, the bird varies the appearance of her feathers.” He began to count out seven sour fruits on the table. “You will need these.”

Juan pointed to the tiny lemons. “How will seven fruits help me capture the Adarna bird?”

“Every time the bird sings, you must cut your arm and rub the wound with lemon juice so the pain will keep you from falling asleep, even despite the tender melody.” Then he offered the prince a coil of rope. “After she sings her seven songs, the Adarna bird will come to the tree to sleep. You must avoid lying under her, or you will become a stone. This golden cord is the only effective way to tie her.”

“Thank you very much,” Juan said. “I’m sure I’ll catch her thanks to your advice.”

“One more thing,” said the hermit. “As soon as you have the Adarna bird, you must draw water from the spring near the tree and pour it onto the two stones beneath the silver leaves. This will revert your two brothers back to their old forms.”

Don Juan returned to the base of the silver-leafed tree and waited there until vast darkness spread. He had his knife ready at his wrist. At midnight, he heard the sound of wings as the Adarna bird came to roost in the branches of silver leaves.

Seven times, the Adarna bird sang, full of enough sweetness and tenderness to make any young man tired. Seven times, the bird’s plumage changed. And seven times, Don Juan cut his arm and rubbed it with one of the lemons so the pain kept him from falling asleep.

After the Adarna bird finished, it pooped and fell asleep. Armed with his cord, Juan climbed up the tree as quickly as possible. He grabbed the bird and bound its wings and feet. Now that I’ve caught it, I have to release my brothers from the enchantment, he thought, staring at the two big rocks.

So he knelt by the stream and scooped a cup of water. Then he poured the water onto the two piles of stone according to the hermit’s advice. Just like that, Don Pedro and Don Diego returned to their former forms. Juan was so excited to see his brothers again!

“What’s the matter?” Pedro cried, confused. “Why…why is Juan here?!”

Diego rubbed his head. “And he’s got the Adarna bird!”

Juan explained the whole incident to his brothers, whose hearts were suddenly overcome by an intense envy.

When dawn broke, Juan set off to the cave to thank the hermit and say goodbye, carrying the Adarna bird with him.

Diego jerked his thumb at Juan’s back. “Looks like our youngest brother will surpass us,” he joked.

“Yes,” Pedro said with a frown. “And that won’t do. We must prevent him from receiving father’s blessing and winning the crown.”

Diego raised his eyebrows, distressed. “You don’t mean…to kill him?”

“No,” Pedro said. “We’ll just beat him and leave him here. Let nature kill him.”

Meanwhile, Don Juan found a surprise at the mouth of the cave. There was no sign of anything that had occurred last night. The cavern was deserted, full of cobwebs as large as he was. This is a wonder, he thought. There are mysteries all over this place. So he trekked back to his brothers’ camp without meeting the hermit at all.

The two princes were waiting for him, holding sticks behind their backs. “Clever, Diego,” Pedro whispered. “He’s coming back.”

“Be careful not to hurt the Adarna bird,” Diego warned.

Then the brothers, ruled by their envy, pounced on Juan and beat him mercilessly. Once they were satisfied, they left him in an unconscious heap on the ground.

Diego lifted up the magic bird and laughed. “If I hadn’t fallen asleep, I would’ve been the one who caught you,” he told it.

Pedro stood over his youngest brother’s body, plotting. “We’ll say that we caught the bird. Nobody will know the truth. And we’ll leave Juan here to die.”

So the two left Don Juan, fully expecting him to die, and mounted the two swift horses. Soon they returned to the kingdom of Berbania.

At the palace, an excited vassal fetched Valeriana. “Dear Queen, your two children Don Diego and Don Pedro have come back…and they bring the Adarna bird!”

The people of Berbania rallied to give the returning heroes a glorious welcome. The two princes waved to the citizens, dismounted, and met the Queen upstairs in the King’s chamber.

Though thrilled to see them, Valeriana still seemed disappointed. “You didn’t see Juan?”

“No, dear queen mother,” said Pedro. “I had just caught the Adarna bird when Diego arrived.”

“That’s it,” Diego added. “I just helped him return here. We did not even see Juan’s shadow.”

The princes untied the bird and then retied the cord around its leg to a perch set before the King. There the bird sat silently, making Fernando worry. “That might not be the true Adarna bird,” he said. “See? It does not sing.”

Alarmed by the accusation, the princes grew indignant. “This is the real Adarna bird,” Pedro insisted, then turned to yell at the bird. “Come on, sing and prove it.”

“Go ahead, sing and heal our father!” Diego ordered.

Then the bird stunned everyone by speaking on its own. “I only sing for whoever caught me, and that wasn’t you. The one who caught me was Don Juan, and you killed him!”

Queen Valeriana was aghast. “Is what the Adarna bird says really true? You really killed your youngest brother?!”

“The bird is lying,” Pedro said quickly.

“Don’t believe that bird!” Diego added.

Just then, the chamber door opened, and in stepped Don Juan.

Both brothers jumped back in shock. Queen Valeriana brightened, and so did King Fernando.

He must have been listening at the door, because he said, “What the Adarna bird told you is all true. They tried to kill me and left me at Mount Tabor to die. But then the mysterious hermit appeared to me again and cured me.”

The Adarna bird seemed to perk up. “The one who really caught me is still alive!” it said. “Now I can sing.” And then the whole room was filled with the bird’s sweet and tender singing.

At the sound of the Adarna bird’s song, King Fernando’s illness was cured instantly. The first thing he did was throw off his covers and confront his two eldest sons. “You rascal children!” he bellowed. “You tried to commit an atrocity out of your lust for power.” The two princes hung their heads in shame. “Now I’ll tell you this: Juan will inherit my scepter and crown. And as for you two, you will be exiled to some distant locale forever!”

Distraught, the two princes fell to their knees. Diego groveled before his little brother. “Don Juan, have mercy. Don’t throw us out. Please, forgive us for what we have done! We were blinded by the intensity of our envy. Have mercy…”

Meanwhile, Pedro entreated his father, who wouldn’t even look at him. “Father king…forgive us. We admit the weight of our guilt and we are sorry.”

Don Juan chuckled to himself and removed his helmet. “My dear father. For the sake of our family, I ask for their forgiveness. I believe they have learned a good lesson.”

The two brothers once again fell to their knees to take each of Juan’s hands.

“You are a true brother with a heart. I will never forget it.”

“Thank you, Don Juan, thank you!”

Queen Valeriana watched her three sons, smiling. At last, King Fernando granted forgiveness to Don Pedro and Don Diego, and when Don Juan realized that he was completely cured, he untied the Adarna bird from its perch.

“Your role has been fulfilled, so I am restoring you to freedom.” He carried the bird to the window and finally set it free. “Go, Adarna bird, back to the world of mystic justice.”

The royal family watched as the majestic bird soared out the window, singing its tender song to the sky.

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