Once upon a time, there were three chickens who shared a coop, and quarreled amongst themselves constantly over the choicest morsels, their favorite perches, who laid the biggest eggs, or which one the farmer liked best. One day, a fox sauntered by and observed them arguing, so he hid and watched them from the bushes.
That evening, the fox collected feathers and sewed them into a suit, and he fashioned himself a beak out of wood. He made a large nest out of twigs and grass at the edge of the clearing where the chickens ran during the day. At dawn, he settled himself into the nest and waited. Soon, the farmer came to scatter corn for the chickens, and then he left to attend to other chores. The chickens came out to eat – they quarreled over this tidbit or that one, and each one claimed to have seen the sunrise first; they could not agree on anything.
“I can settle your dispute,” said the fox. The chickens were startled, and they all saw the fox at the exact same moment. “Come here, and I will solve your disagreement in an equitable manner.” The fox looked quite impressive in his suit of feathers, and the chickens had never seen such an astonishing bird. They waddled over, and one said to the fox, “You must be very wise. How will you solve our dispute? How do you know who saw the sunrise first?”
“That’s easy,” purred the fox. “You were all inside when the sun rose, but I was right here, and I saw it first.” The three chickens could not disagree with this wisdom, and they admitted that it must be true. “From now on,” said the fox, “when you disagree on anything, bring your dispute to me and I will be the judge, and you will be happy because you won’t need to quarrel anymore.” The chickens unanimously agreed that from now on, they would bring their problems before the superior judgment of this wise bird.
The chickens waddled back to their feed; each one thought it was marvelous that their arguments could henceforth be solved so easily. Shortly, two of them began quibbling over a kernel: the chicken that was not involved in the dispute said, “I will carry this kernel, and we will let this wise bird settle the matter.” All three skipped over to the fox, and presented him with the dilemma. “Give me the kernel,” said the fox, “and I will eat it. You will find other kernels, and think more carefully before fighting over them.”
The chickens went back to the coop solemnly, and were quiet the rest of the day. The next morning, they didn’t fight over their food at all. However, they soon began a debate as to which one had the finest feathers. They submitted this question to the wise bird, and the fox said: “I need time to consider this question, because it is a serious matter. Each of you must pluck three of your finest tail feathers and leave them with me. Come back tomorrow, and I will give you my decision.” Each chicken obediently plucked three of her finest feathers, and they all waddled back to the coop nursing sore tails.
“Now we all have bald spots,” clucked one of the chickens. “Yes, and mine hurts,” piped a second. The third chicken said, “It was nicer when we just argued about things; I miss our quarrels! You are my friends, and bickering with you about silly things didn’t hurt our friendship… it was fun.” For once they all agreed on something, and they decided that in the morning they would tell the wise bird that they appreciated his wisdom, but that his services were no longer necessary.
The fox overheard some of this conversation, and that night while the chickens slept, he thatched together a small cage of twigs, and hid it behind his nest. In the morning, when the chickens waddled over, they agreed that the one who had spoken last the day before should be the spokeschicken, because she had spoken eloquently. When they appeared before the judge, she addressed him: “We have decided that our lives were better when we quarreled amongst ourselves, and we appreciate your wisdom and generosity, but from now on we prefer to settle our own differences.”
“You have made a serious mistake in rejecting my authority, because you all voluntarily consented to submit to it. Since this is a first offense, I will only punish the one of you who has spoken so insolently.” And the fox told the chicken who had spoken that if she did not go quietly to jail, the others would be punished as well, so she settled herself into the little cage willingly. Her friends, shocked into silence, returned to the coop to discuss this unforeseen development. Not one of the chickens had even thought to ask about the feather verdict pending from the previous day.
“We did consent to letting the wise bird resolve our differences,” one chicken told the other. “Yes, and now our friend is in jail because she spoke up for us; that doesn’t seem right,” said the other. “Tomorrow we must go back and swear to abide by the wise bird’s decisions in all things.” They agreed, and in the morning they went back to the wise bird, but they saw no sign of their friend except a few small feathers around the cage. “Your friend escaped during the night,” said the fox; “one of you must take her place.”
“She wouldn’t run off like that! She wouldn’t leave her friends without a word,” one chicken protested. “Since you’ve had the nerve to speak to me with contempt, you shall take your friend’s place,” growled the fox, “or I’ll punish both of you.” So the second chicken settled herself in the fox’s jail to spare her friend from punishment. Just at that moment, the fox’s tail peeped out of the nest; she saw it and began to squawk furiously. “Run, save yourself!” she screeched to her friend; “this is no bird, but a fox in disguise!”
Quick as lightning, the fox grabbed the free chicken and gobbled her up, while her friend watched in horror. “Thank goodness I can be rid of this ridiculous bird costume now,” said the fox, tearing it off, “and get out of this stupid nest.” He picked up the cage in his jaws, and trotted off into the woods, pleased to know where his next meal was. And the moral of this story is threefold: if you don’t want to get plucked, don’t trust a crafty predator to dispense justice; if you want to stay out of jails, beware the motives of those who have built them; and if you don’t want to be eaten, don’t volunteer to be dinner.
When the fox administers justice, the chickens will always be found guilty.