Once, there were three birds who shared the tallest tree in the forest; a sparrow, a jay and a cardinal. Though they lived in the same tree, these birds lived very different lives.
Among the lowest branches, the sparrow struggled, seldom having enough to eat, and often settling for the leanest worms or for any bug it could find. The sparrow neglected its nest, leaving threads unraveled and only patching the sides when the nest threatened to come undone entirely.
Up in the middle of the tree, lived the jay. The jay had perfected a technique for capturing the fattest grubs and—though it lived fairly well—like the sparrow, the jay had to hunt daily for its food. Though the jay would sometimes dream of something larger and more luxurious, its nest was a comfortable size, well-kept and nicely decorated.
Finally, above the jay and sparrow, in a large, spacious nest, lived the cardinal. The cardinal seldom hunted for its own food like the other birds. Instead, the cardinal had built a number of bug traps around the forest. The cardinal simply offered a small percentage to the sparrow, and in return, the sparrow occasionally harvested and delivered the bugs.
One morning, an old dragon came to stand at the bottom of their great tree and called to them. As the birds assembled, the dragon said, “Neighbors, I have a small token of my appreciation for the beautiful music you bring to our forest. My only condition is that you must allow me to return tomorrow to hear how you’ve used my gift.”
Curious, the birds agreed. The dragon gave each bird a silver coin and told them to do with it what they would.
Snatching up its coin, the sparrow flew straight to the town market and purchased a brightly-colored silk ribbon with which to play and decorate its nest.
The jay—after some careful consideration—made a payment toward a debt owed to the cardinal and used the rest to see a show at the local stage.
Lastly—after taking nearly the whole day to ponder—the cardinal flew to the market and purchased as many Baby’s Breath seeds as it could carry. Returning home, the cardinal settled in for the evening.
The next morning, the dragon visited them. Chirping happily, the sparrow and jay told the dragon of their purchases and the dragon listened, delighted.
When the dragon turned to the cardinal, the cardinal said, “Gracious dragon, thank you for your gift. My I ask, isn’t it true you highly prize the sweet berries from the brier patch?”
The dragon smiled. “Why, yes, I do,” he said.
“Dragon, with my coin, I bought Baby’s Breath seeds; a loved treat among birds,” the cardinal said. “I propose to trade the seeds to a few of our flock in exchange for collecting a dragon’s mouthful of sweet berries for you each morning. In return, I only ask you to pay two coins for every mouthful. In this way, I can continue to supply us in seeds and you in berries. Does this sound agreeable?”
“It certainly does!” cheered the dragon. “A marvelous idea!”
And so, the wise cardinal came to serve both the dragon and the birds, to the benefit of all.