Crow happened one day to watch as a fish was snatched up from the river by a small grey bird.
‘Who are you?’ Crow demanded of the little fisher.
‘I am Kingfisher,’ the small bird answered proudly.
Crow was not impressed. He stretched out his wings in the breaking light of the day to show off his iridescent plumage in the sun’s first rays. ‘No, no, no,’ he cawed. ‘I am far larger than you, and my feathers are far more opulent. It is clear that I am king.’
‘Your size is greater than mine and your plumage more striking,’ admitted the small, dull-coloured bird, ‘but I am king of the fishers,’ he insisted.
‘King of the fishers? Hah! I am also the superior fisher,’ declared Crow. ‘That grayling you just caught was tiny. I can do much, much better than that. I will show you.’ Crow told Kingfisher to meet him downstream. ‘Give me five minutes to change out of my feathers,’ he said. ‘I will be with my friends but I’ll let you know when I’m ready and you can watch me in the river.’
Dragonfly flashed past Kingfisher. ‘Pay no heed to Crow,’ she whispered. ‘All he ever fishes for are compliments.’ But her words were whisked away by the wind.
Cunning Crow flew down to where the swimmers were changing into their black neoprene wetsuits. Five minutes later, the sceptical Kingfisher flew downstream and tucked himself away in the reeds. To protect the modesty of Crow and his friends, he politely directed his gaze across the water while he waited for them to finish getting changed. Although he did not look at the corvids, he was certain that he recognised them by their crowing:
‘I swam five kilometres last week,’ cawed one.
‘I swam by moonlight,’ said another.
‘I swam skins when the water was just five degrees,’ a third one crowed.
Kingfisher then heard the birds enter the water with a splash that would scare off every single fish in the realm. He shook his head and laughed at Crow’s ridiculous notion.
Crow was perched in a tree that had fallen into the river, the tangled branches concealing his warm, dry and feathered body. As a neoprene-clad form swam directly beneath him, he threw his voice to make it appear that he was the oily, black swimmer. ‘Watch me now, little fisher!’ he called.
Kingfisher peered out from the reeds and sure enough, he saw the sleek, black, shining Crow swimming along the river. He appeared much bigger in water. The little bird was surprised that Crow was swimming but nonetheless, he was sure this pretender possessed no skills to match his own. ‘You may be able to swim,’ he said, ‘but you’ll not catch anything like that! I am still the king of fishers.’
‘Wait and see!’ called Crow from his hideout.
Before long, Crow called out to Kingfisher again. ‘Don’t look! I am going to get out and when I am changed back into my feathers, I will show you what I have caught.’
So Kingfisher waited in the reeds until Crow invited him to look – while Crow waited in the tree until the swimmers were dressed and their wetsuits tucked completely away.
Dragonfly flitted brilliantly around Kingfisher’s head. ‘Look! Look now, Kingfisher! Crow has caught nothing but your attention!’ But the reeds shushed her words away.
‘Come see what I caught, little fisher!’ Crow called. ‘I have no use for them so I set them free but look! Come quickly before they go!’
Kingfisher was shocked. Crow was flying above his catch: three enormous humans, coated in a magnificent array of colours, who were heading off across the land.
‘Do you see, little fisher? My catch is much larger than yours!’ Crow boasted. ‘I am the biggest, the most colourful, and the most talented hunter so I am truly king of the fishers!’
The poor duped Kingfisher, ashamed of the pride he had expressed in his skills, hid himself away in the reeds and vowed, henceforth, to be humbler.
This might have been the end of it but Dragonfly, saddened by the little fisher’s loss of spirit, determined that the conceited Crow should be outshone. She waited until the sun was at its highest, then she struck out on her delicate wings, round and round, until she had drawn a hundred sparks in the air about Kingfisher and set fire to his grey feathers.
The small bird, shocked to find himself alight, darted into the water to put out the flames and when he emerged, he found that although the fire was doused, his feathers still blazed most gloriously. Most regally.
And so it is that we call hear the jealous Crow’s angry cries from the treetops but only a lucky few ever catch a glimpse of the most spectacular, most modest Kingfisher.
Illustrations by Kath Fotheringham