By the edge of the marsh they set upon the poet and killed him. Beat him to death. The sound of the blows startled the cranes from the marshes. With his last breath, the poet cried, “Avenge me, you cranes!”
They laughed and divided his goods — which were not many — between themselves. Then gutted his body and dumped it into the marshes. Half went east, half went west, unturning.
Two days later and sixty miles farther away the chief of them all sat in the great coliseum of the port and watched the lions tear a prisoner to pieces. He roared with the crowd, thrilled with the crowd, thirsted for blood with the crowd.
As the lions ripped the throat out of the prisoner, six cranes flew into the coliseum and circled above the crowd. Slowly it fell silent, until the only sound was the wet tearing of the lions, and the flapping of the great wings.
His blood went cold. “It’s the cranes,” he whispered, unconsciously. “They’ve come to revenge.” In the great silence his voice echoed and reechoed. As in response, the largest crane cried mournfully and all six turned and climbed into the sky.
The spell was broken, but the crowd remembered.
Two weeks later he took his turn before them, speared and netted, bloody, bloody.