A Tale of Tails
“Here is a story you might enjoy,” I address Johannes. He sits at “his” spot on the window seat, decidedly not looking at me. I encourage a response. “It has lots of talking animals.”
Silence follows. His tail twitches. “Any cats?”
“A close relative, evolutionary-wise. I’ll listen.”
I read to him Grimms’ TheTwo Brothers.
There are two brothers, one rich and one poor. The poor brother captures a golden bird, which the rich brother buys from him, knowing its magical property of granting gold coins. However, it is the poor brother’s twin sons who accidently acquire the gift. Jealous, the rich brother advises the poor brother that his sons are in league with the devil and must be driven out.
Abandoned, the youths are taken in by a huntsman, who apprentices them in his trade. Eventually, as huntsmen, they venture into the world.
When they are about to shoot a hare, the creature pleads for it life promising them two of its offspring. The two bunnies are so cute, the huntsmen do not have the heart to kill them. The same thing happens with a fox, a wolf, a bear, and a lion.
Johannes purrs with satisfaction at the mention of the lion.
The brothers part ways, leaving a knife, given to them by the master huntsman, stuck into a tree, knowing that if one side or the other rusts, then that brother is in danger.
The story follows one of them and his half of the animal entourage. They come to a kingdom ravaged by a dragon that yearly demands a virgin as sacrifice. The last virgin left is the king’s own daughter.
Johannes grins. “I bet they marry young in that town.”
I ignore him.
On the hill where the princess is to be given over to the dragon, stands a church. In the church the huntsman finds three goblets of wine, and written instructions on where to find and use the sword to defeat the dragon. When the princess arrives, he secures her in the church. He and his animal companions face and defeat the seven-headed dragon. The huntsman cuts out the tongues and wraps them in the kerchief of the princess. Exhausted by battle, they all fall asleep.
A marshal, left behind to observe the proceedings, sneaks up, cuts off the huntsman’s head, terrorizes and carries off the princess, then declares to the king that he defeated the dragon.
The resourceful animals restore their master with a magic plant. Knowing nothing of the marshal, the huntsman assumes the princess betrayed him, and it is some time before he learns of the marshal’s treachery.
On the day of the wedding between the princess and the marshal, the huntsman returns to make his claim. The marshal has the seven dragon heads, but the huntsman has their tongues and the princess’s kerchief.
After the marriage, he is out hunting, when he is waylaid by a witch and turned into stone. His twin brother chances to check the knife and finds one side is rusted. He follows his brother’s path and is mistaken for him when he gets to the kingdom. He keeps the secret, hoping it will help in his search. That evening, retiring to bed with his brother’s wife, he lays his sword between them.
The next day he goes hunting and comes across the witch, but is not fooled by her. He forces her to restore his brother. However, the revived brother, upon hearing the other brother spent a night with his wife, without a thought, cuts off his head. Regretting his action, he allows the animals to heal the wounds with the same magical plant used on him.
Upon his returning to the castle that evening, his wife asks him why he laid a sword between them the night before. The husband now truly understands the faithfulness of his brother.
“Well, what do you think of that?” I ask.
Johannes has nodded off. Well, it is a long tale.