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Ukrainian Folk Tale Retold by Ivan Franko
Translated by Mary Skrypnyk
Illustrated by V.Melnichenko
The Bear and the Wolf were walking through the forest one day when they heard a bird twittering in the shrubbery. Coming closer, they saw a tiny bird with an upright tail hopping from branch to branch and chirping.
"Brother Wolf, what bird is that, that sings so beautifully?" asked the Bear.
"Quiet, Bear, this is the Kingbird," whispered the Wolf.
"A Kingbird ?" the startled Bear whispered back, "then in that case shouldn't we bow to him?"
"Of course," said the Wolf, and they both bowed to the bird, right down to the ground. But the bird didn't even look at them. He went on hopping from branch to branch, chirping away and continuously flirting his upright tail.
"You see, he's so small, yet so proud that he won't even glance at us!" grumbled the Bear. "It would be interesting to see what it's like in his palace."
"I don't know what it's like," said the Wolf. "Though I know where the palace is, I've never had the nerve to look in."
"Frightening or not, there just never seemed to be a right moment."
"Then let's go now, I'll take a look!" said the Bear.
They came to the hollow tree where the bird had his nest, and just as the Bear bent forward to look into it, the Wolf grabbed him by his coat-tail and tugged.
"Wait, Bear, stop!" he whispered.
"Why, what's the matter?"
"See, the Kingbird has flown up! And there's his Queen. It's too awkward for us to look while they're here!"
The Bear followed the Wolf into the bushes while the Kingbird and his wife flew into the hollow to feed their young. After they flew away, the Bear came up and looked in. The hollow was like any hollow in a decaying tree; a few feathers were spread about and on them sat five baby Kingbirds.
"You mean to say that this is the Kingbird's palace?" shouted the Bear. "Why this is nothing but a hole! And these are supposed to be the Kingbird's children? Fie! What ugly little strays!"
And spitting vigorously, the Bear turned to go away, when here the baby Kingbirds in the nest began to squeal:
"Ho, ho, Mr. Bear! So you spit on us ? You'll have to answer painfully for this insult."
The Bear felt a cold shiver run through him at their squealing. He ran from the ugly hollow as fast as he could, took shelter in his burrow, sat down and sat there. The baby Kingbirds in their nest, once started, kept on squealing non-stop, till their mother and father returned.
"What's going on here? What's happened?" asked their parents, and offered their children a fly, a worm, whatever each had picked up.
"We don't want any flies! We don't want any worms!"
"Then what has happened to you?" asked the parents.
"The Bear was here and called us ugly strays, and he even spit into our nest," explained the little Kingbirds.
"You don't say!" shouted father Kingbird, and without thinking long, he rose and flew to the Bear's burrow.
"You old Burmilo!" he said, sitting on a branch over the Bear's head. "What were you thinking of ? What was your reason for calling my children strays and added to that, spitting into my nest ? You'll answer to me for this! Tomorrow morning you'll meet me in bloody battle!"
What could the Bear do? If it was war, then it was war. He went out to call all the animals for support: the Wolf, the Wild Boar, the Fox, the Badger, the Deer, the Rabbit — all who ran about the forest on four legs. The Kingbird also called on all his feathered friends, not to speak of the small life of the forest: Flies, Bees, Hornets, Mosquitoes — and told them to prepare for a great war on the morrow.
"Listen," said the Kingbird, "we must send someone out to scout the enemy camp, so that we'll know who their general will be and what they will choose for their war cry."
The counsel decided to send the Mosquito because he was the smallest and the most cunning. The Mosquito flew to the Bear's camp and arrived just as deliberations were in progress.
"How shall we start?" asked the Bear. "You, Fox, are the most clever among us, so you will be our general."
"Very well," said the Fox. "You see, if it were animals that we had to deal with, it would be better to have the Bear himself for general, but we have to deal with all the winged creatures, so in this case I may be more helpful. The most important thing here is a quick eye and a cunning brain. Now listen — here is my plan. The enemy will be flying through the air. But we won't bother with them. We'll go straight to the Kingbird's nest and kidnap his children. Once we have them in our hands, we'll force the old Kingbird to end the war and surrender, then victory will be ours."
"Good, very good!" shouted all the animals.
"This means," continued the Fox, "that we must advance in a solid line, remain together, because there are Eagles and Hawks and other birds in the enemy ranks; if we advance in a scattered fashion they will peck our eyes out. Together we will be safer."
"True, true," cried the Rabbit, to whom the very mention of the Eagle made his knees shake.
"I'll go ahead and the rest of you follow," said the Fox. "You see my tail — it will be our battle standard. Everyone watch my tail closely. When I'm holding it straight up in the air, it means you can advance boldly. If I see an ambush ahead, I'll immediately lower it to half mast; that will be a signal for us to advance more slowly and carefully. And if there is real danger ahead I'll bring my tail right down between my legs. Then you must run with all your might."
"Great, great!" shouted all the animals and praised the Fox highly for his cleverness. The Mosquito, having heard the whole clever plan, flew back to the Kingbird and told him about it in detail.
The next day at dawn, the animals gathered together to begin their march. The earth trembled, the brush crackled, the roars, the squeals that resounded through the forest were frightening.
On the other side, the birds were getting together: the air was full of the noise of flapping wings, leaves fluttering down from the trees, shrieks, clamour, cawing. The animals came forward in a solid line straight toward the Kingbird's nest; like a thick cloud, the birds flew above, but couldn't stop them. But the old Kingbird wasn't too worried. Seeing the Fox marching proudly at the head of his army, his tail, like a candle, in the air, he called to the Hornet and said:
"Listen, friend! You see that Fox over there? He's the enemy general. Fly as fast as you caw, sit on his stomach, and bite with ail your might."
The Hornet flew straight to the Fox's stomach. The Fox felt that something was crawling over his stomach and he could have chased away whatever it was with a wave of his tail, but no, his tail at this moment was the battle standard, so he couldn't. But here the Hornet sank his stinger into a very tender spot!
"Oh woe!" howled the Fox and lowered his tail halfway.
"What is it? What's happening?" the animals called to one another.
"I think... some sort... of ambush," muttered the Fox, clenching his teeth with pain.
"An ambush, an ambush!" the message was passed down the line. "Carefully, there's an ambush."
But here the Hornet again stung the Fox with all his might. The Fox howled with pain, leaped into the air, put his tail between his legs and ran. Now the animals asked no questions about what was happening, but fled in terror in whatever direction was handy, falling all over each other in their haste. And the Birds, the Bees, the Mosquitoes and the Hornets took after them, beating them from above — pecking, biting, tearing. It was a terrible battle! The animals — those who remained alive — scattered and hid in hollows and holes, while the Kingbird with his birds and insects were victorious.
The Kingbird flew joyfully back to his nest to tell his children.
"Well children, now you can eat, we've won the battle with the animals."
"No," said the baby Kingbird, "we won't eat till the Bear comes here and begs our pardon."
What to do? The Kingbird flew to the Bear's burrow, sat on a branch over his head and said:
"Well, Burmilo, so you would fight with the Kingbird, eh?" But the Bear, who had marched in the rear of his army and had been severely battered by the hooves and horns of the Wild Boar and the Deer when they fled in retreat, was now lying down and groaning. "Go away and give me peace," he growled. "I'll tell everyone not to provoke you in the future."
"No, my friend, that is not enough," said the Kingbird. "You must go to my hollow tree and beg pardon of my children, because otherwise you'll be in even greater trouble."
And the Bear had to go and apologize to the baby Kingbirds. Only then were the Kingbird children satisfied and began again to eat and drink.
Author: Ukrainian Folk Tale; illustrated by Melnichenko V.
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