There was once two egrets and a tortoise who were the best of friends. They lived by a lake and spent their days eating and swimming in the clear water.
But one year there was a terrible drought. The lake shrunk to a dried plum. Fish died. Plants shrivelled. Whenever the egrets flew off elsewhere, the tortoise would ask them to bring some worms back.
After thirty days, there was still no rain. Most of the animals and insects had already left. "We must leave too," said the egrets.
"There's another lake not far away we can fly to."
The tortoise shook his head sadly. "How can I ever move fast enough? I'm already weak with thirst."
Then he had an idea. "Would you hold the end of a stick with your beaks while I hang on in the middle?"
"Why not?" said one egret.
"Be careful not to open your mouth on the way," said the other.
So the friends took off, flying high over beautiful mountains and secret temples. They swooped down to a village and the tortoise felt full of wonder.
Below, farmers drove buffalo carts. One of them looked up. "Those birds are carrying a tortoise. How clever of them,' he said.
The tortoise felt a bit hurt. After all, he'd thought of it.
Children laughed and pointed. "How smart of the egrets. I wish they'd fly me like that."
The tortoise gritted the stick angrily.
Then all the villagers were milling, shouting and waving. "What a great idea, birds!"
Suddenly the tortoise couldn't bear the egrets getting all the praise anymore. "Hey, it--!" he said.
But of course, as soon as he opened his mouth, he fell like a rock from the sky.
"What a foolish tortoise," the people said.
This is a retelling of a famous Chinese folktale.
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