The Willow-wren And The Bear

: Grimms' Fairy Tales

Once in summer-time the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest,

and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully that he said: 'Brother

wolf, what bird is it that sings so well?' 'That is the King of birds,'

said the wolf, 'before whom we must bow down.' In reality the bird was

the willow-wren. 'IF that's the case,' said the bear, 'I should very

much like to see his royal palace; come, take me thither.' 'That is not

/> done quite as you seem to think,' said the wolf; 'you must wait until

the Queen comes,' Soon afterwards, the Queen arrived with some food in

her beak, and the lord King came too, and they began to feed their young

ones. The bear would have liked to go at once, but the wolf held him

back by the sleeve, and said: 'No, you must wait until the lord and lady

Queen have gone away again.' So they took stock of the hole where the

nest lay, and trotted away. The bear, however, could not rest until he

had seen the royal palace, and when a short time had passed, went to it

again. The King and Queen had just flown out, so he peeped in and saw

five or six young ones lying there. 'Is that the royal palace?' cried

the bear; 'it is a wretched palace, and you are not King's children, you

are disreputable children!' When the young wrens heard that, they were

frightfully angry, and screamed: 'No, that we are not! Our parents are

honest people! Bear, you will have to pay for that!'

The bear and the wolf grew uneasy, and turned back and went into their

holes. The young willow-wrens, however, continued to cry and scream, and

when their parents again brought food they said: 'We will not so much as

touch one fly's leg, no, not if we were dying of hunger, until you have

settled whether we are respectable children or not; the bear has been

here and has insulted us!' Then the old King said: 'Be easy, he shall

be punished,' and he at once flew with the Queen to the bear's cave, and

called in: 'Old Growler, why have you insulted my children? You shall

suffer for it--we will punish you by a bloody war.' Thus war was

announced to the Bear, and all four-footed animals were summoned to take

part in it, oxen, asses, cows, deer, and every other animal the earth

contained. And the willow-wren summoned everything which flew in the

air, not only birds, large and small, but midges, and hornets, bees and

flies had to come.

When the time came for the war to begin, the willow-wren sent out spies

to discover who was the enemy's commander-in-chief. The gnat, who was

the most crafty, flew into the forest where the enemy was assembled,

and hid herself beneath a leaf of the tree where the password was to be

announced. There stood the bear, and he called the fox before him

and said: 'Fox, you are the most cunning of all animals, you shall be

general and lead us.' 'Good,' said the fox, 'but what signal shall we

agree upon?' No one knew that, so the fox said: 'I have a fine long

bushy tail, which almost looks like a plume of red feathers. When I lift

my tail up quite high, all is going well, and you must charge; but if I

let it hang down, run away as fast as you can.' When the gnat had heard

that, she flew away again, and revealed everything, down to the minutest

detail, to the willow-wren. When day broke, and the battle was to begin,

all the four-footed animals came running up with such a noise that the

earth trembled. The willow-wren with his army also came flying through

the air with such a humming, and whirring, and swarming that every one

was uneasy and afraid, and on both sides they advanced against each

other. But the willow-wren sent down the hornet, with orders to settle

beneath the fox's tail, and sting with all his might. When the fox felt

the first string, he started so that he lifted one leg, from pain, but

he bore it, and still kept his tail high in the air; at the second

sting, he was forced to put it down for a moment; at the third, he could

hold out no longer, screamed, and put his tail between his legs. When

the animals saw that, they thought all was lost, and began to flee, each

into his hole, and the birds had won the battle.

Then the King and Queen flew home to their children and cried:

'Children, rejoice, eat and drink to your heart's content, we have won

the battle!' But the young wrens said: 'We will not eat yet, the bear

must come to the nest, and beg for pardon and say that we are honourable

children, before we will do that.' Then the willow-wren flew to the

bear's hole and cried: 'Growler, you are to come to the nest to my

children, and beg their pardon, or else every rib of your body shall

be broken.' So the bear crept thither in the greatest fear, and begged

their pardon. And now at last the young wrens were satisfied, and sat

down together and ate and drank, and made merry till quite late into the