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The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts

 

The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

One day as Bruin the Bear and Isengrim the Wolf were taking a walk in the woods they came to a big elm-tree with a hollow trunk. Peering within in the hope of finding something to eat they espied a little nest supported by two notches in the bark. It was the tiniest and neatest little house one could wish to see, made of fresh green moss, with a small opening in the middle for a door, and was, in fact, the home of a little bird called the Golden-crested Wren. Now among the country people the golden-crested wren is often known by the name of the Kinglet, and being aware of this, Isengrim saw a chance of playing a joke upon his companion. “Look at this nest, Bruin,” said he. “What would you say if I told you it was a King’s palace?”

“That a King’s palace!” laughed Bruin scornfully.  “A handful of moss in a hole! Why, with one tap of my paw I could smash it to fragments!”

“I should not advise you to do any such thing,” said Isengrim. “The King who lives in that palace is much more powerful than you think, and unless you are looking for trouble it would be best to leave his home alone.”

“What!” cried Bruin, in a rage. “Am I to be defied by a miserable little fowl in my own forest? That for your King!” And with one sweep of his paw, he reduced the nest to a shapeless heap of moss. “Now let him revenge himself if he can,” he roared. “I hereby declare war upon him and upon all his tribe. Fur against feather! The four-legged animals against those that go on wings. We will put this matter to the test!”

When the Kinglet came home and found his nest destroyed he danced and chattered with anger. Isengrim lost no time in letting him know who was responsible for the mischief, and took a spiteful joy in telling him of the Bear’s challenge.

“Very well,” said the little wren. “Kinglet is my name, and King shall be my nature. I will call all the winged creatures together and we will settle the matter by the test of arms.”

During the next two or three weeks there was a great coming and going in the forest as the two armies assembled. The air was full of the whirl and rustle of wings. From the nests under sunny banks came the wasps in thousands, each with his shining cuirass of black and yellow, and his deadly sting. The gadfly came too, and the tiny gnat, and the mosquito from the stagnant pools, with insects of every other sort and kind—more than one could count in a day. From his eyrie on the mountain crags the lordly eagle came swooping to take his place beside the nightingale and the sparrow. In that hour of need all rivalries were forgotten; the falcon and the hawk took their place in the ranks with the thrush and the robin.

The Bear, on his side, was not idle. Swift-footed messengers were sent to every part of the land to summon the four-legged animals to arms. Slinking through the undergrowth came Isengrim’s kin, the grey wolves, with lean flanks and fierce eyes shining. Reynard brought his troop of foxes. Crashing through the trees came the mighty elephants, waving their trunks and trumpeting defiance to the foe. Out of the mud of river-beds, from the grassy plains, and the densest thickets of the forest, the animals came flocking—lions, tigers, camels, bulls, horses—if I were to name them  all I should fill this book with their names. Never had so many animals been brought together since the days of Noah’s Ark.

The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

When everything was ready, the Kinglet, who was a prudent leader, sent out a spy to try to gain information about the enemy’s plans. For this purpose he chose the mosquito, who, as you may imagine, was neither easily seen nor easily caught, particularly as the Kinglet warned him to be very careful not to buzz. Under cover of the darkness he flew to the Bear’s camp, and succeeded in discovering the headquarters of the general staff, where the leaders of the animal army were conferring. Just as the mosquito arrived, the Bear and the Fox were speaking together.

“So it is settled,” the Bear was saying. “Our great offensive will begin to-morrow. Each of you knows what to do, I think? We have discussed everything, and nothing remains to do, but to press forward to a glorious victory.”

“You are right, my lord,” said Reynard, “but there is just one thing you have forgotten. How are we to know when the victory is won? We must have a standard-bearer.”

“Of course,” answered the Bear, “we must have a standard-bearer. I was just going to say so. Who shall it be?”

“With all respect, my lord,” answered Reynard, “I propose that it should be I. My beautiful bushy tail will serve as a battle-flag. I will walk at the head of the army and hold my tail straight up in the air, as stiff as a poker. So long as I keep it like that, you will know that all is well; but if anything disastrous should happen, I will let it droop to the ground, so that our troops may have ample warning to take refuge in flight.”

“Excellent,” said Bruin. “You have heard what Reynard proposes. Take notice that I hereby appoint him standard-bearer to our armies.”

So it was agreed, and having learnt all that he wished to know, the mosquito flew back to the Kinglet with his news. The Kinglet said nothing, but sent for the wasp, and gave him certain orders.

The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]

At dawn the next morning the great offensive began, and from the very beginning things went rather badly for the armies of the winged animals. At two points of the line the Bear and the Tiger led dashing attacks against divisions commanded by the eagle and the hawk, and after long and fierce fighting, forced them to retire. High upon a knoll commanding the battlefield, in full view of the troops, stood the Fox, with his bushy tail held proudly in the air. As he watched the struggle his lips curled in a grin of triumph.

Suddenly there was a piercing yell that rang out clear above the noise of battle. It came from the Fox, who drooped his tail to the ground, and ran, howling with pain, to the rear.

“We are lost! We are lost!” cried the animals, seeing the standard lowered. “Traitors are amongst us! Fly for your lives!” From point to point of the swaying battle-line the panic spread, throwing the army into hopeless confusion. Before long the whole of the Bear’s troops were in retreat, and the victorious army of the winged-creatures swept on and over them.

Late that night Bruin the Bear and Isengrim the Wolf, both of them very bedraggled and wearied with much running, sat together gloomily in a distant part of the wood. Presently they saw Reynard the Fox limping towards them, and immediately they rose and began to heap reproaches upon him.

“Traitor!” said Bruin. “Why did you lower the standard? In another hour we should have won.”

The Fox looked at them sulkily. “Why did I lower the standard?” said he. “Because a wasp came and stung me right at the root of my tail!”


The Battle Of The Birds And Beasts [Folk Tales Of Flanders]



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